Friday, 30 January 2009

What's happening to our honey bees?

You know an issue has become serious when it makes it to the plot line of The Archers! Such is the global concern about the plight of our honey bees that this week we heard Jill Archer explaining in some detail her concerns about her bee colonies.

The problem is that honey bees are dying out. In some parts of the USA and Europe bee populations are decreasing by as much as 80%. Entire hives (colonies) simply expire over night. The causes of this Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) are not really understood, but the ramifications are enormous. Albert Einstein said:-

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man,"

Experts are undecided on the exact causes of CCD, but it is thought to be a combination of factors that are weakening the bees’ immune systems. Varroa is a parasitic mite that infests the bees and carries deadly viruses. The overuse of insecticides is also thought to play a part in the bees’ demise. Another suspect is an AIDS-like virus that attacks the bees’ immune systems. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics has also been cited as a possible factor.

Whatever is causing CCD, if our honey bees die out it will have much greater ramifications than the loss of a tasty condiment from our tables. Honey bees pollinate fruit trees, food crops, and other plants that humans and animals need to survive. It would be a catastrophe.

So, if you don’t do anything else this year plant some things that bees love. Lavender is an obvious choice – you can even grow it in a pot on a very small balcony. Plant a buddleja (I love Black Knight) – they need little or no attention, will grow almost anywhere and butterflies and bees love to feed on their nectar rich flowers. Try some Thymes, Agastache, Echinops, Echinacea, Scabious, Sedum, Penstemmons and Helenium. Bees in my garden also go mad for the flower spikes of Heuchera.

Flowering trees are also brilliant for encouraging bees. Try an ornamental Cherry (Prunus) – there are some lovely small specimens for those with limited space. Malus (ornamental Crab Apple) are also great and good for smaller gardens. Flowering shrubs like Olearia, Cytisus (Broom), Ceanothus and Wiegela are also popular nectar sources.

Not only might it help the bees, but you will enjoy the flowers and their scent and a feeling that you are doing something worthy.

Click here to see a more in-depth report on the plight of the honey bee.

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