I have talked a lot about my love of local eating. I am not a hard-core locavore by any stretch, but I am finding more and more local sources of foods I love. And I’m gradually expanding my own garden each year, too. Along the way I’m learning things about food and trying new things.
One of the things that I’ve discovered since I started eating more local food is honey. Of course I’ve eaten honey nearly my whole life. But I always bought it at the grocery store, and it always tasted the same. Now that I’m buying it at the farmer’s market I’m trying many different varieties. Clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, wildflower, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, and my favourite jewelweed. Each is different. Some are mild, some are strong. Some aren’t even all that sweet. I’m sort of amazed that I went through 30 years of honey eating before I realized that there was such variety.
So I was particularly saddened to learn about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In late 2006 beekeepers in North America reported unusually high disappearances of honeybees. And the phenomenon continued. In the winter of 2007/2008, 36% of hives in the US were lost to CCD.
Cases of CCD are characterized by a complete absence of adult bees in the hive, with no dead bees in or around the hive. All the workers just…disappear. Eggs and larva are present, and the hive is filled with honey. While bees do abandon hives, they don’t do it when there are young present, and particularly not when it’s still filled with food. There’s no explanation for where all the bees have gone. And this is not a localized phenomenon, colonies have disappeared across North America.
There are a number of theories as to what is causing CCD. Everything from climate change, to cell phones, to pesticides, to mites and parasites have been blamed. The US Agricultural Research Service says that there is no single answer, although they do rule out cell phones. They think it’s most likely a biological cause like a virus, parasite, or mite, in combination with pesticides.
So what? We can live without honey, right? Well yes, but bees pollinate a lot of the food that we eat. Fruits and vegetables ranging from pumpkins to strawberries to apples depend on bees. If we don’t have them, we lose 30% of our food. This is not a small number. Even companies like Burt’s Bees are getting the message out:
So what can we do? Suggestions include avoiding pesticide use, supporting organic farmers (to further reduce pesticides), and planting flowers that bees like. The good news is that this year honeybee populations seem to have stabilized after beekeepers changed their practices. Although we’re hardly out of the woods yet. We need to remember that we are part of an interconnected web of existence, and we depend on other creatures for our survival. If we lose one piece, the whole thing can collapse in on itself.
I am hopeful that the honeybees will return. You can bet that I won’t be swatting any that come across my path anytime soon. And that I will appreciate the wonderful honey I eat all the more.