In the fall of 2006, I was living in the Okanagan valley in BC, Canada.
That’s when I first heard about colony collapse disorder.
Dave Hackenburg, an outspoken beekeeper, blew the whistle.
He reported that bees were simply vanishing from his hives. My mom heard the news and emailed me.
That year, newspapers began to report honeybees mysteriously disappearing from beehives.
Beekeeping enterprises and beekeepers reported losing 30% – 90% of their colonies.
I moved around a lot after that, including some time in an ecological preserve in Central America, and I learned a lot about permaculture there. When I moved back to Canada, after a while I ended up living in Toronto, Ontario. I joined a few environmental groups.
Seeing the forest for the concrete
One group, called Park People, was active in re-greening previously green areas in the city where rivers used to run (and now course underground). They encourage “green belts” to connect the wild and park spaces in urban areas.
They create park out of forgotten scrubby areas, and keep zones of wild plants and flowers, and even bee boxes and water spots, around the city. They started putting beehives on top of the hotels downtown, tended by volunteers.
Properly kept bees, which are allowed to eat honey, to forage, and to pursue some normal behaviours, are something we could use a lot more of in urban areas.
An Eye-Opening film
At Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood library in 2014, I saw QUEEN OF THE SUN. This film brought the bees issue back into my consciousness, and completely changed my views on almonds.
I took my then 3 year old son to the film, and it impacted us both a lot.
I highly recommend the film.
Given the state of the world’s bees, I also recommend checking out the Movie site’s recommendations for what we can do to help the bees, here.
If you live in a high-rise, the most accessible thing you can do is to buy organic and local food from farmers, including their locally produced raw honey.
It can cost a pile of money, and be hard to stomach if money is tight, until you realize in is both a food purchase and an environmental donation, it is an act of activism and survivalism. I soothe myself with this information, now that I am back home, in a glass tower so prototypical for the Vancouver area, Douglas Coupland calls it the City of Glass.
More recently in Winter 2017, a landmark, first-of-its-kind study came out, called Pollinators in Peril.
Here is a link to the study. Go check out the images of rare bees!
The Center for Biological Diversity analyzed the status of 4,337 native bee species. They identified all bees recorded as native to Hawaii, Canada, the United States and Mexico, in the Discover Life database (www.discoverlife.org)
They assessed 1,437 species, more than half (749) of which were in decline.
Nearly 1 in 4 (347 species) were at an increased risk of extinction, and those were the ones they could get enough data on to assess -> more than 92% were not assessable.
Now, there are different levels of endangerment, as well as ways to measure them, but threatened, vulnerable, imperiled, critically imperiled, endangered and the like are terms that we shouldn’t take lightly. They all mean the bees are in decline. And when we say “at risk of extinction”, we mean it. Some are at risk of disappearing entirely, soon.
90% of wild plants depend on these creatures, and so do we. The economy of the Okanagan Valley where I lived when I first heard of their peril, is totally dependant on apples and the pollinators that give them life.
They are essential, critical, indispensable.
And yet it is us who is endangering them, more than anything.
We should all get Darwin Awards
A lot of people turn to a plant-based diet because they love the planet, the environment, and biodiversity. And yet, these people are drinking a dozen Tetrapaks of almond milk per month. Or they are turning to a paleo diet, and feel pretty superior as they make everything with almond flour. I’m not pointing fingers, I’m right in this pile of well-meaning ignorants.
Almonds = not so great
In California every year, monocultures of almonds, sprayed with 2,100,000 pounds of glyphosate every year, grown for our almond milk and gluten free almond flour recipes, are pollinated by bees brought 1,000 of Kms in trucks, fed high fructose corn syrup in holding yards, and forced to work without forage or flowers to graze on.
Cramped together in boxes, run down by the poor food, they soon are passing diseases via mites, and dying from mite-carried viruses, and so the bees are sprayed and dosed with mites controlling chemical medications, to which the mites are now immune.
Colony collapse disorder spreads, but we do not change our agriculture practices. So now the bumble is endangered, and many other sweet creatures as well.
Hope to heal our ecosystem
Paul Stamets, the mycologist (mushroom person) and all around super smart and interesting dude, recently revealed a significant breakthrough: he proposes that mycellium can help the bees. He suggests that fungi can dramatically improve bee health, and help bees overcome Colony Collapse Disorder.
In 1984, he noticed bees from his hives flying intently to a patch of mycelium in his garden. In fact, bees regularly forage on mycelium, which have many antiviral properties.
30 years later, when Louie Schwartzberg asked Paul, “Can you help the bees?”, Paul remembered this strange occurrence, which reignited his interest in bees. Through a series of interesting events, he discovered that mushrooms, one from the rain forests from right around the corner from where I live here in BC, are indeed able help the bees.
Mushrooms to the rescue!
The polypore mushrooms studied are the stars of the latest developments in the world’s quest to save the bees. Inoculation with the mycelial extract from amadou and reishi reduce the bee deaths from deformed wing virus carried by mites by up to almost 80%. It is a significant step towards saving the bees.
By seeking to find answers, getting creative, protecting our forests, un-taming the unclaimed spaces in our urban environments, and using the urgency of the official endangerment of the bumble bee to our advantage, we can improve the outcome for our pollinators and ourselves.
Until next time, shop smart, speak up, and join other like-minded people!