Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We miss the bees

Though this has been a beautiful spring, we have noticed a disturbing absence in our flower garden. We seem to be suffering from a serious shortage of bees.

Our front yard is loaded with white clover, and our flower beds are full of bees' favorites. With names like Bee Balm and Bienenfreund (German for "Bee's friend"), you'd expect the flowers in our garden to be lousy with bees. And in past years, they have been. But this year, it seems eerily silent in our garden. The familiar buzzing is missing around our blooms.

Commercial apiaries are suffering dramatic losses of bee populations due to a mysterious killer called Colony Collapse Disorder, and wild bee populations, like the ones who should be pollinating our garden, are being ravaged by disease and parasites.

Last week Germany took dramatic action to ban an entire class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, which have been blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees there. Bayer CropScience, one of the main producers of neonicotinoid pesticides like imidacloprid and clothianidin, two chemicals that have been blamed for massive bee die-offs in the US and Europe, denies that the pesticides are dangerous "when used properly."

I don't find their reassurances very satisfying. Surveys from the Apiary Inspectors of America this year report that honeybee populations in the US are down by about 36% over last year, and last year they were down by 31%. Growers who depend on honeybees for pollination, like fruit growers, are paying top-dollar for commercial pollination services, adding to the list of woes driving up food prices around the world.

We haven't had a scientific survey done in our garden, but I'm finding the quiet out there more than a little disturbing. We need some real answers about what's killing off bees around the world, and perhaps we need to be following Germany's example when we've got a good hunch.

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