Colony Collapse Disorder

This is such a devastating problem of potentially disastrous proportions. The entire food chain (human survival) is dependent on bees for pollination of food plants. As mentioned in my previous post, information about colony collapse disorder – where bees are either dying off or are in low numbers – can be found on the U. S. Department of Agriculture website: http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572

A recent episode of Nature, on Public Television, on this very topic, was entitled, “Silence of the Bees.” It was compelling, with the message that colony collapse disorder is probably caused by many factors. The full episode can be viewed on the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/silence-of-the-bees/introduction/38/

One possible cause was especially intriguing: some bees’ internal map or “navigation system” may be damaged (by a virus, or other causes) so that once they leave their hives, they become lost and cannot find their way back to their hives, thereby “collapsing” a hive.

One segment on the human costs really struck me: in an area of China, where pears are a key crop, bees were wiped out by pesticides in earlier years. Now, in the absence of bees, the farmers are forced to pollinate the pear blossoms, for each tree, by hand, a highly labor-intensive activity that is hard to sustain in the long term. I was speechless.

Colony collapse disorder may seem like an ambiguous or distant problem that has no immediate impact on our very own lives in the short-term, but I, for one, as an amateur gardener, have already seen some effects already in my small corner of the world. My young summer squash plants, which started out so promisingly, have yet to fruit. The flower blossoms appear to have gone unpollinated. I’m growing bee-loving plants (lantana) right next to the squash plants. Bees used to be regular visitors, but their numbers have dropped off considerably in my garden in recent months. In years past, I would trim my lantana on a monthly basis. Now I let it grow a bit rampant, if only to entice bees and butterflies to my garden to pollinate my fruit and flower plants.

The subject of colony collapse disorder is not “sexy” and so does not get the media coverage it really deserves. I’ll be monitoring my garden much more closely henceforth for any  further changes in bee activity.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE: Lantana is highly poisonous if it is ingested. I’ve gotten a rash after pruning it. Please take care with this plant. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

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