Bee Thankful

Oct 2011

By Apis Mellifera

My dearest James Bay residents: collectively, we thought it to bee a good idea to let you know a little something about us.  First of all, my sisters and I have lived in James Bay for pretty much all our lives. My name is Betty 672, (at last count, I had 700 sisters named Betty, oh, make that 699, #487 just died, got caught in a cold shadow between houses and crashed to the ground).  I will be 36 tomorrow and my days are numbered.  Don't bee too upset about it though; it's just the way it is.  We have been doing it this way for millions of years, and we can honestly say that we are the most important insect on your planet; we are perfectionists at everything we do.  Don't get me wrong, we're not full of ourselves.  We do what we do because that's just the way life is.

Let's face the number one fact of our lives that makes yours so comfortable. If we do not pollinate your monocultured food crops, you don't eat, period.  Agriculture will crash and many will starve.  Never before in your human history have you had it so good - consuming what you want and when you want it, anytime, anywhere.  You people boggle our little brains, and you're killing us with your non-stop pressure to produce.  We have just about had enough; and when we stop work, you will see a drastic decrease in all fruits, vegetables, and the meats you consume.  All your cows, chickens and pigs require the forage crops that we pollinate for you year after year.  If you place us where pollination is required, we will do the work for you without hesitation; but we are finding it harder and harder to perform your demands on us.  Roundup-ready crops, herbicides and pesticides and the chemical treadmill you put us on are taking their toll, and we are just about ready to crash.

It is common knowledge in our world, and we need to let you know about a very critical time in our lives and yours.  In January/February of every year, over one million colonies of honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards in California. Did you know that one million colonies of honey bees would line your highway from Victoria to Port Hardy and back again? And that represents about twenty five percent of all the bees in North America.  One million times about fifty thousand bees per colony is a mind bending number even for us.

When we first arrive for almond pollination, it is usually pretty cold and no blossoms are to be seen.  Our keepers feed us with liquid sugar and pollen substitutes for several weeks or more till the blossoms open.  In your year of 2007, a keeper in the southern states held his head and cried in his apiary over the unknown demise of about twenty thousand colonies of us.  You humans named it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  It has been almost five years, and you still have not figured it out.  Wake up folks!  We were never meant to be trucked around the country to feed on one type of crop for weeks on end, and then moved again to another monocrop.  Question, can you survive eating the same thing day in and out for weeks, and then moved to eat another crop for weeks on end?  That kind of diet will kill ya for sure.

We have pests and pathogens that would scare you right out of the movies and the uncertainty of what can happen is very unsettling.  Vancouver Island beekeepers can not sustain the losses taken in the winter of 2009.  Family businesses will go under as that year maxed out most lines of credit.

New pests and pathogens will be introduced to the Vancouver Island Bee District by bees imported on comb.  Imported bees to Vancouver Island should be restricted to bees in packages only.  It is prudent to protect our unique environment and the vast array of native insect species that could be under threat.  The varroa mite is a parasitic mite that feeds on the honey bee's hemolymph, and will kill a colony of bees in no time if left unchecked.  American Foul Brood Disease is a spore forming bacterium that attacks the honey bee larvae. The colony basically rots away.  The spores will be introduced to and will decimate other bees' hives by absconding and robbing bees.  The only sure cure for this disease is to burn the colony to the ground, but antibiotics and best management practices will bring the colony back to a sustainable level.

We have a few ideas that will take some of the pressures off us, and make your lifestyle more comfortable and rewarding.  Here goes now, and pay attention!  Support your local grower and eat what is in season.  Easier said than done, but if you work on it, you can make this change.  Support your local beekeeper; they work very hard to keep us healthy and productive without jeopardizing our future.  Plant a little something for us; we appreciate nectar and pollen producing plants.  A little secret here for you: James Bay is a Garden of Eden for honey bees.  Our keeper Brian is very excited and thankful for the bounty of honey we produced.  We don't mind giving it up, as we still had enough of the season left to build up our winter supplies of about 30kgs of honey and a rainbow of pollen-filled frames.  Wish us luck this winter, and we hope to work for you again in 2012.