Colony Collapse Disorder has not abated, has not changed and has not been solved. The focus of studies remains in essentially two areas. The most visible is that Colony Collapse Disorder is a result of some combination of nutritional stress, pesticide exposure, virus infections, varroa mites and nosema and remains under investigation by an army or researchers. The other slant is molecular, and studies are looking at variances in, and affects on the immune system when stressed and other related issues. Both areas are generating information but as of yet no solutions.
Peripheral discoveries continue to surface though from studies that would never have been funded had not Colony Collapse Disorder come along, so beekeepers are better off no matter what. Those beekeepers that are left that is.
So we hold our collective breath until some breakthrough occurs. When it does, and it eventually will, the USDA, university researchers and all manner of beekeepers will once again be under the spotlight. When asked, scientists will carefully spell out the meaning of the words: "Just because we found the cause does not mean we have found a cure ... and we will need additional time and funds to sift out this elusive answer." Especially funds.
So. We wait.
Meanwhile, the ranks of urban, suburban and likeminded beekeepers has continued to swell. These are the least affected by Colony Collapse Disorder, and they have pressured and persuaded many municipalities to reconsider current bans on keeping bees in the city. Our photo feature on urban beekeepers highlights this interest. But the change in attitude of many municipalities to allow not only bees, but chickens, rabbits, and expanded gardening activities including community supported agriculture ventures and more and more farm markets is the result.
Without question urban bees and urban gardens are a natural fit. But gardening in the city is a bit different than when you have acres in the country. Tiny spaces, available sun, water sources ... all affect what you can grow and where you can grow a city garden.
Interestingly, this is what I do when I want to get away from bees. A degree in gardening (Horticulture, actually), several years of related research and some time spent farming for a living have proved useful over the years. And now seems like a good time to mix the two: city bees and city gardens.
So while we wait for science to catch up with Colony Collapse Disorder, I'm going to explore some of the many benefits, and unique challenges of keeping bees and growing food in the city.
If you are considering getting your hands in some soil this spring, especially if this is the first time, or you are expanding out from pots of geraniums on the front step into enough of something for dinner, stay tuned ... there's lots to do.
Like keeping bees, before you begin you'll should do a realistic assessment of what you have, what you want to do, and how can you do it with what you have.
Time is the biggest factor to consider ... how much time, actually. Growing good things to eat isn't difficult but it does take some time commitment. If it's pots of tomatoes on the deck it will be different than rows of veggies in a vacant lot down the street, but still ... you gotta be there when you gotta be there. Will that work with your schedule?
And what about water ... you'll need lots for the vacant lot. How does it get there, especially if it doesn't rain for a few weeks?
And the soil. If you buy it in a bag is has some good properties but will need some attention later. But if it's been hiding under a vacant lot for ... decades maybe ... it will need a lot of attention. Then there's organic matter and fertilizers, pest control and mulch, weeds and curious neighbors and ... well, there's lots to explore here. But the first good thing to do is to get some garden supply catalogs if you don't already. A quick Google search turned up more than you'll ever need, but get several because they all have a specialty ... and before you even begin you have to know what it is you want to grow. I'll start there next time, but don't delay ... it's already January.
So there you have it. The Beekeeper's Garden. Bees are still in the middle but now let's broaden our horizon a bit and explore the rest of the honey bee's world. It's not all death and disease and disaster you know. Mostly, it's still green and growing and buzzing. Stay tuned.
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