YANZUM Gardens
Since 1989 All rights reserved 1989 - 2013
Spring Flowers sculpture, recycled from bed springs
(above photo) "Spring Flowers" garden sculpture created by author from old recycled bed springs.

The Vanishing Bees bee on flower

For those of you too young to remember your grandmother using the term “the bee's knees”, it apparently started during the flapper days of the 1920s, used to describe something or someone who was of a very desireable quality. What better group to apply this term to than the bees themselves.

You may not realize this, but we owe our very survival to these tiny, tireless, efficiently designed, fuzzy, buzzing, flying creatures called bees. Such a simple name for such an incrediblly important creature. Without bees to pollinate our crops, we wouldn't have any fruits, vegetables and nuts to eat. We likely wouldn't even have any beef to eat because bees also pollinate the alfalfa that cows consume. Without bees there would likely be no more milk nor juicy hamburgers.

I recently watched a documentary titled "Silence of the Bees" about the vanishing bees. I immediately decided to write about it because it's a huge problem with possibly even more dire consequences for us humans than global warming.

Everyone needs to be aware of the situation because it threatens to affect every one of us, but I hear very little about it in the mainstream press. Rather than sitting around assuming someone else is fixing the problem, we as individuals need to do whatever we can right now. There are things that each of us can do to help prevent things from getting worse. More about that later.

Like many people, I was vaguely familiar with this vanishing bee phenomenon, but I didn't know a lot of details. It seems this problem has been brewing for a long time. Most of the blame can be pointed directly at us. Over the past several decades, in our seemingly unquenchable thirst for more housing developments, golf courses, resorts and commercial developments, we have slowly bulldozed  the natural habitat of bees and other vital creatures. What was once abundant natural fields and forests filled with wildflowers and other blooming plants and trees, now is covered over with homes, concrete parking lots, warehouses, shopping malls, highways and other man made intrusions on nature.

Joni Mitchell sure knew what she was singing about in 1970 when she wrote the lyrics “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” She went on to tell the farmer to put away his DDT and give her spots on her apples, but leave the birds and the bees, please. It's almost as if she was psychic because now  40 years later her premonition is coming true. .....we never know what we've got until it's gone. If you want to read the lyrics intact simply Google the words “pave over paradise”.

As our constantly growing population demands ever increasing quantities of food, mega farms are taking over large tracts of land devoted to growing this food for us to consume. The problem is, there were not enough native bees left in their now severely diminished natural habitat who could pollinate these vast fields of fruits and vegetables. This started a new trend of large bee keeping companies bringing in their truckloads of bee hives that they “rent” to the growers during pollinating season. The same truck load of bees might be pollinating oranges in Florida one month and then they are trucked to another far away state for apples, blueberries or whatever else needs pollinating. This alone seems it would take a toll on the bees' health.

Bees pollinate at least one third of our food supply. Without pollination there will be no seeds. Without seeds for reproduction, most plants will cease to exist. This includes basic plants like lettuce, herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and so on. Granted, some plants reproduce by division and some are pollinated by other flying insects such as butterflies and moths, but these insects are also endangered because their natural habitat has also been greatly diminished by our “progress”. Wildlife also depends on these seeds, so they too will be endangered. Food prices will soar and in the end, what we will have left is wheat, rice and other grains that are pollinated by the wind. Life might be a bit boring with only gruel, rice and cereal to eat for our entire life. We would eventually have no trees to climb or to shade us in the summer and no forests to wander through except those with trees that reproduce by runners. There will be no apples to give to the teacher on the first day of school, but maybe kids don't do that any longer.

Plants, trees and rain forests in particular are like the lungs of the earth. They help purify the air we breathe. Combine the loss of much of our food producing plant material with our current global warming trend and earth will become an extremely inhospitable place to live. We all must make drastic changes now before it's too late to reverse.

There is hope. We can do this. Because of the serious nature of this problem that affects every person on earth, science is keeping a closer watch on bees now. They have discovered that the honey bees have not just one thing afflicting them, but many. They are extremely stressed out. The one thing that seems to have pushed them over the edge is a virus similar to HIV where it diminishes their immune system. Somehow it has been spread around the world, presumably because of the bee renting system that I mentioned above. The rental bees were also vanishing in large numbers, so new bees were brought in from other countries. Now the problem is worldwide.

Science is now working to cross breed our docile bees with the africanized bees we've heard so much about in recent years. The africanized bees are very aggressive, but they are also much healthier and resistant to many of the problems of other bees. Science is working to develop a new and improved bee that will have the best characteristics of both types, but this will take time.

Meanwhile, there are things we can all do now to prevent the situation from getting worse.

  1. We must all plant more flowers instead of vast perfectly manicured lawns that offer nothing to wildlife, especially bees. Each of us can create our own natural habitat that offers food for bees, butterflies and other insects and wildlife. It can be by letting your entire property go natural with native plants and wildflowers, or by planting more flower beds using many re-seeding annuals and wildflowers, or simply by adding little patches of nature here and there. Like I said, mowed lawns may be aesthetically pleasing to us, but they do nothing to help support nature. This was their habitat for eons before we came along and changed it, so we must now learn how to share it with them.

  2. We Americans have gotten to be very spoiled when it comes to buying produce. We refuse to buy any fruits or vegetables that have even the slightest blemish. Because of this, the growers are forced by market trends, that we set, to use ever increasing amounts of insecticides, instead of letting Mother Nature do her thing naturally. This trend must change. We need to do whatever it takes to dramatically reduce or eliminate the use of insecticides. Insecticides not only kill their intended victims, but also nearly everything else in the area, including the bees that our survival depends on. We are eating fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with insecticides so I'm sure our bodies are also affected. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather eat an apple with a small blemish that I can cut out, rather than an one that was sprayed with insecticides.

  3. We must stop using insecticides on our own personal lawns and gardens. Insecticides not only kill many beneficial insects, but they also make their way into our water system as they run off into our rivers and streams and they percolate down into our wells and aquifers. We are poisoning ourselves and everything around us and we seem to be completely oblivious to it as long as we have a perfect lawn to look at, perfect roses to enjoy and perfect fruits and vegetables to eat.

  4. We must educate ourselves, our friends, relatives and neighbors about this serious problem. Urge people to stop using pesticides, including those used by lawn care workers. Urge them to plant more flowers and create more vegetable and fruit gardens. Urge them to reduce the size of lawns that require polluting equipment to maintain. Urge your local governments to promote the use of wildflowers along roads and highways instead of mowing them. They can turn a boring highway into a breathtakingly beautiful experience, while reducing pollution and maintenance costs.

  5. The earliest evidence of harvesting honey from bees goes back to 20,000 BC.  For  those of us who are very adventurous, we can learn about bee keeping, also known as apiculture.  We can adopt an age old  system of providing honey for ourselves and nectar for the bees, by combining working bee hives with nearby wildflowers and  blooming food crops.  This system worked for a long time and it can work for us again. 


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Watch an excerpt from
 "Silence of the Bees"


Invite nature into your yard or garden by planting wildflowers, add a birdhouse, birdfeeder, bat house, birdbath, hummingbird feeder.

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