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One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

~William Shakespeare
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Tuesday, November 4 2008

The Bees' Needs
Honey bees are mysteriously vanishing across the country, putting $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables at risk.

Do you like apples? How about cucumbers, broccoli or onions? Pumpkins, squash or carrots? Blueberries, avocados, almonds or cherries? These crops and many others can't grow without honey bees, and a mysterious die-off of these hard-working pollinators could put $15 billion worth of U.S. crops at risk -- not to mention put a damper on your diet.

Urge the Agriculture Department to act now and research ways to save our bees and crops.Beekeepers sounded the alarm about disappearing bees in 2006. Seemingly healthy bees were simply abandoning their hives en masse, never to return. Researchers are calling the mass disappearance Colony Collapse Disorder, and they estimate that nearly one-third of all honey bee colonies in the country have vanished.

Why are the bees leaving? Scientists studying the disorder believe a combination of factors could be making bees sick, including pesticide exposure, invasive parasitic mites, an inadequate food supply and a new virus that targets bees' immune systems. More research is essential to determine the exact cause of the bees' distress.

Department of Agriculture Fails to Act

Bees play a central role in our food supply, but the federal government has yet to take sufficient action to protect them. The government recognizes cows, pigs and corn as agricultural commodities, but not the critical honey bees. Although Congress has begun to act on the issue, research on the bees' disappearance is still lacking.

In 2007, Congress recognized Colony Collapse Disorder as a threat and granted the U.S. Department of Agriculture emergency funds to study honey bee disappearances. In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill grants the Department of Agriculture $20 million each year to support bee research and related work.

But the Department of Agriculture has yet to produce significant results.

Protecting honey bees is a crucial part of this agency's responsibility. The Department of Agriculture should be held accountable for the funding it has received and should provide a complete report of its progress on solving the problem of colony collapse disorder.

Bee Friendly, Bee Safe: Here's How

You can also help keep bees healthy by making your yard and garden colorful, diverse and pesticide free. Here are some tips on how you can Bee Safe:

Bee Native: Use local and native plants in your yard and garden. These plants thrive easily and are well suited for local bee populations, providing pollen and nectar for bees to eat.

Bee Diverse: Plant lots of different kinds of plants in your yard. Plant diversity ensures that your garden attracts many different varieties of bees and gives them a range of flowering plants to choose from throughout the year. Make sure your yard plants vary in:
Color: Bees have good vision and are attracted to several different colors of flowers.
Shape: Different species of bees are better suited for different shapes of flowers. Give your bees some variety!
Flowering times: Having a sequence of plant species that flower throughout the year helps sustain the food supply and attract different species of bees.

Bee Open to Pollen: Pollen is bee food. Genetically engineered pollen-free plants trick bees into thinking they'll find food, and then leave them hungry. (Don't worry, flower pollen isn't a big contributor to most people's allergies.)

Bee Pesticide Wary: There are many natural methods to control pests in your garden. Researchers believe pesticides are a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder. Moreover, some insecticides are harmful to bees and wipe out flowers that provide bees with food. If you must, use targeted pesticides and spray at night -- when bees aren't active -- on dry days.

Bee a Hive Builder: Building your own bee hive is easy and fun. Creating a wood nest is a good place to start -- wood-nesting bees don’t sting! Simply take a non-pressure treated block of wood and drill holes that are 3/32 inch to 5/16 inch in diameter and about 5 inches deep and wait for the bees to arrive.
Related NRDC Pages
The Vanishing Bee, OnEarth Magazine
Posts on NRDC's Switchboard Blog

Last Updated ( Wednesday, November 5 2008 )
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