“If all the honeybees on the planet disappeared, mankind would have four years left to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” – quote attributed to Albert Einstein
While no one can verify if Einstein actually made this prediction, the truth of if is uncontested, and right now it is raising alarm bells. Some authorities estimate that in the last 20 years we have lost 90% of the world’s honeybees. According to recent USDA figures, beekeepers lost 37% of their hives in 2007. Some say this is because of our extensive monoculture – bees need a variety of flowers to live on – and the introduction of genetically modified plants. Some say it is due to urban sprawl, the use of insecticides and magnetic fields. Others claim that disease and pests are the culprits. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these factors.
Large scale commercial beekeeping can also have a negative impact on honeybees. Migratory beekeepers, who travel with large pallets of beehives for commercial pollination, have accelerated the spread of pests that plague the honeybee. And controlling these pests with chemicals has bred infectious mites that are now immune to those controls.
What can we do about it? Farmers and the general public can have a positive impact through simple choices about when to spray or mow, as well as planting crops, flowers and trees that provide valuable food for both domestic and feral bees.
Backyard beekeepers who want to do their part can learn from Chris Harp, who promotes an organic, holistic approach to beekeeping through his New Paltz-based organization, HoneybeeLives, http://www.honeybeelives.org/. From hive design and maintenance to treatment of disease or infestation, Harp teaches a philosophy of nurturing honeybees and encouraging their natural instincts.