November 22, 2008 at 8:25AM
by Kim Flottum
April may have been the cruelest month in 1922 when Eliot wrote The Waste Land, but November is the cruelest month in 2008 as beekeepers, almond growers, pollination brokers, scientists and reporters hold their breath to see if this November Colony Collapse Disorder will rise again and be counted. November is the month it begins to creep, especially in the holding yards of California. So far its presence hasnt been overwhelming, but it has shown up, mostly in operations arriving just this month from the east coast. But it isnt limiting itself to just California, as usual, so beekeepers everywhere are making lists and checking everything twice, or more often, to make sure their bees are doing what their bees are supposed to be doing.
One scientist speculates that the previous two years have, in a twisted sort of way, been beneficial to the beekeeping industry if for no other reason than beekeepers are working hard at maintaining healthy colonies. Carefully they are watching nutrition levels in their bees, timing mite treatments better, doing everything possible to stem the tide of Nosema cerane, the gut-infecting disease thats been causing all manner of problems the past couple of years, and to reduce as much as possible their exposure to any and all pesticides in the agricultural environment they are required to live in.
All of these precautions have paid off to some degree for most beekeepers, as it seems, so far, the incidence of CCD has been reduced. But this is a sly and sneaky monster so no one is taking the lull so far for granted, and everyone is holding their breath.
Still, all the precautions in the world have not stopped the reoccurrence of this malady, and some beekeepers, mostly those who have experienced this before, have already taken serious losses this fall. All the good intentions in the world, it seems, havent helped in some places. And no one can quite figure out why. So far.
The old news is that no new money has been forthcoming from USDA to solve the problem, to fund additional research, to carry out the national inventory of bees and beekeepers promised long ago, so at least someone, somewhere, will know how many there are now, so we can find out how many there arent next spring after all is said and done and dead.
Much has been done, however, to reduce some of the problems beekeepers have faced over the past few years, and much of it has been done by the beekeepers and the beekeeping industry. Most especially the nutrition aspect of honey bee management has moved forward, with several new and better honey bee food supplements showing up that are better bee food than some before. But even so, bees dont normally eat eggs or soybeans or cows milk byproducts as healthy and nutritious as these are for animals that are designed to eat these foods so even the best supplement is still a supplement, not the perfect honey bee foods floral pollen and honey. The results of feeding these new foods are promising however, as those using them are experiencing honey bee populations in their colonies larger and healthier than in recent memory ... even those who are right now seeing CCD in their colonies. Go figure.
Moreover, beekeepers checking for mite levels and Nosema
levels has become common place, where in years past it was mostly assumed you had a problem and treatments were given rather than check to see if you needed to treat. This more disciplined regimen has helped beekeepers spot problems before they get out of hand and take the necessary management steps. But more importantly, these timely tests have shown that, indeed, if there isnt a problem and treatments arent necessary, treatments arent given. This has improved overall colony health certainly ... but just as important, it has improved beekeeper morale, and balance sheets.
Certainly the most common foe honey bees have are the agricultural chemicals they encounter on a daily basis. This past season too many beekeepers witnessed the differences between colonies that visited treated crops, especially corn seed-treated with the new neonicitinoid chemicals
that protect the plant for the entire growing season ... and colonies that stayed out in the woods as they say, far from the farmers killing fields.
Colonies exposed to these treated plants are, for many right now, experiencing a whole list of problems including and the prospect of successfully overwintering these colonies seems unlikely. This isnt CCD, but dead colonies are dead colonies and a bankrupt beekeeper pollinates no crops or food for wildlife, makes no honey, and produces no other products. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
This has not gone unnoticed, finally, and a few beekeepers who have been on the receiving end of this pointed stick are beginning to listen to the National Resource Defense Council. Recall that last summer http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080818a.asp the EPA was sued for what the NRDC felt was information that was being withheld by EPA pertaining to the deadly nature of these chemicals when it came to bees. Mounting evidence suggests the NRDC was right on and, perhaps in an effort to calm the natives, Bayer Chemical sat down with beekeepers just last week to see what could be done.
Personally, I hope this goes in the right direction for beekeepers, and for everyone exposed to this poison, but previous experience with corporate chemical companies leads me to believe that it wont. I hope Im wrong.
But this does nothing for those beekeepers, and those bees exposed to this stuff this past summer, and dying bees are dying bees and empty colonies are empty colonies.
So all the attention beekeepers have given their bees this summer to protect them from the ravages of CCD, from poor nutrition, from Nosema, from tracheal and varroa mites, from small hive beetles and even angry neighbors doesnt do squat if, when their bees leave home, all they encounter is poison in their food, poison in their flowers, poison, poison everywhere.
And if its CCD that strikes again, all that happens is that the bees leave home
and never return. The result, it appears, is the same.
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