I am a younger bee keeper, as in I have had bees for only about six years and just two hives. I have heard a lot about bee problems and have had my own issues to work through with my hives. I have some thoughts of my own and am happy to contribute. Just keep in mind that I am not a scientist with years of research under my belt. I’m just a plain ‘ol farmer trying to earn my keep!
My first thought is this: Honey bees are not native to North America. Anything forced to live in an ecosystem to which they are not native, even if it has been tens to hundreds of years, will face many difficulties. The hive, as we know it today, is not natural to them and not conducive to their well-being. It is designed to make it easier on the beekeeper for extracting the honey. So, in short, we have taken honey bees out of their native environments, put them in boxes for our own convenience and think the bees should be happy, healthy and thankful for all we have done for them.
Second is, yes, pesticides: There are many different type and applications, most of which are deadly to not only the honey bees, but native pollinators and predatory bugs, amphibians, reptiles, and birds that naturally feed on the “bad bugs”. The most prevalent killer is the 7-dust and similar products. These dusts are easily collected as bees fly through the plants and work the flowers. It gets mixed up in the pollen and taken back to the hive where it poisons and kills the bees.
The second, and by far most dangerous in my own opinion, are root and seed- treating pesticides. These poisons are put on seeds and roots of plants. They are then absorbed into every part of the plant. Its design is simply anything that eats any part of the plant will ingest the poison and die. (Now, I wonder if you could tell me which plants or seeds you have bought and planted recently that have been treated with these kinds of poisons. You know, without good research about the suppliers I wouldn’t know either. They are invisible!) Bees gather up the nectar and pollen from these plants, take them back to the hive, turn them into honey they eat and surprise, surprise–the hive dies. I wonder what would happen to anyone who would go ahead and gather the left over honey and eat it? I am not a fan of any type of poison in the garden.
BUT, for those who are too lazy or too busy to fight the good fight, my thought is simply this: Use a water-based spray pesticide. Wait until the plant has finished blooming to lessen the chance of harming the bees, and spray it on in the evening. By the time the sun is up and the bees are out, the spray will be dried and less likely to be collected by bees. I personally do not and will not use them, period! That is my recommendation.
Third is over management: The number one money-maker with honey bees is not the honey. It’s pollination. It’s too easy and cheap to get sugar-based syrups from overseas and unregulated farms call it “honey.” They sell theirs cheaper than small-timers like me can price the real thing. Farmers will pay bee keepers to pollinate their crops. This symbiotic relationship is wonderful, in my book, except when it becomes migration pollination. As poetic as it sounds, it is, in my opinion, a death sentence to the bees. A honey bee’s life is only months. They actually work themselves to death. (Warning to those who faint at the thought of a thirty- to forty- hour work week!) I can’t see any positive aspects to loading thousands of honey bee hives onto a tractor tailor and driving them all over the country. Honey bees are not natural road-trippers. They only fly up to three miles away from the hive in search of nectar and pollen. So they are stay-at-homers. And, interestingly, they don’t fly back to a physical location. When I work my hives and have to separate them to fix a problem or replace something, the bees become confused. Even though the hive body may be just a foot away from where it always sits, the bees that are coming home with their pollen and nectar fly right to where the hive is supposed to be and seem to hover in bewilderment. They fly to a navigational point–not a physical address. So, when you move the bees around, they get disoriented and many will never make it back to their hives.
A bee keeper told me once, “Ask ten bee keepers the same question and you will get fifteen different answers.” So, I leave you with my thoughts. I have read many articles and have talked to many people and can say that my three points are merely a scratch on the issue about what’s causing today’s bee problems. The best advice I can give is simply this: We need more people having just one or two bee hives, more people using less poisons in their gardens and supporting those who are!