This weekend I watched the documentary Vanishing of the Bees on Netflix, and if you are interested in bees at all, I recommend that you do as well. I'm a little late in watching the documentary; it was made in 2009, but it is still incredibly relevant.
The documentary, narrated by Ellen Page, follows beekeepers David Hackenberg (3,000 hives) and David Mendes (7,000 hives) as they try to bring attention to colony collapse disorder (CCD). The two travel to Europe to speak with beekeepers in France and testify in front of a Congressional committee as part of their journey. Hackenberg is credited with discovering CCD. When he first started to talk about CCD (then not named or recognized as a problem), he received a lot of criticism and many thought he was simply a bad beekeeper. Other experts and researchers are also interviewed as you get a glimpse into the world of today's beekeeping industry.
Colony collapse disorder is something that I had heard of before watching Vanishing of the Bees, but not something I new a lot about. It is typically characterized by three things:
- There are no dead bees in or around the hive.
- There are no mites or pathogens in the hive to explain the disappearance of the bees
- The queen and young are left behind.
With CCD, the bees simply disappear. The disappearing is what is making CCD so hard to combat. There are no bees left behind to study in order to determine the cause(s) of CCD. From other research, I've learned that it is suspected that pesticides on crops are making the bees disoriented, similar to being drunk, which is causing them to not be able to find their way back to the hive. They eventually die wandering out in the fields.
Are the bees going to go extinct? Probably not....for a while at least. Beekeepers are great at replacing lost hives. In any given year, even when bees are healthy, a beekeeper can expect to lose about thirty-percent of their hives. To replace these losses, beekeepers simply split hives; a new queen is created and both hives then grow and multiply. The real reason that EVERYONE needs to care about CCD is because, according to Mendes, bees signal environmental quality. If the bees are dying then something is wrong.
You can help the bees and environment by planting for all pollinators, not just bees. Plant flowers and veggies that attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and bats. Eliminate the use of pesticides and don't buy plants treated with pesticides (look at the tags if you are at a big box store and ask your local greenhouse about their use of pesticides). Support local farmers that are more likely to have a diversity of crops (good for bees) and that are less likely to use systemic pesticides.
Besides learning a lot about colony collapse disorder, I learned a few other cool things. One of those things being that bees are trucked across the country in order to pollinate different crops including almonds, blueberries and cranberries. The hives are literally loaded onto a semi-truck and moved from Florida to California to Maine so that the honeybees can pollinate crops for different farmers. I simply assumed that local bees just did all of the pollinating, but farmers and beekeepers have contracts to have these crops pollinated by the honeybees.
I also learned that we cannot classify our honey as organic. While we don't use medications on our bees, we have fed sugar water to them so that they had plenty to eat before many of the flowers bloomed this spring. Organic beekeepers do not feed any sugar water.
And the last thing that I thought was incredibly interesting is that queen bees can be artificially inseminated! The documentary actually shows a queen going through the process. It seems like such tedious work, requiring magnification and tiny tools. But now you have an interesting fact to throw out at your next cocktail party or barbecue.
I highly recommend that you watch Vanishing of the Bees if you haven't yet. I also found another documentary available on Netflix about honeybees that I plan to watch that was released more recently. I'll let you know what I learn from that one as well!
Visit www.vanishingbees.com to learn more.
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