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Save the bees: What we're doing this summer

Posted by: Trevor

March 5, 2012

The world's bee population is dropping rapidly, and it's already having a serious impact on crop production in certain regions. The phenomenon is known as Colony-collapse disorder, which is the technical term for the mysterious mass-deaths of bees throughout North America, Asia, Europe, and now Africa.

Although the problem has been getting worse for decades, it really began to snowball in the late nineties. It's now very serious. What makes it most alarming is the fact that dozens of the world’s most important crops require bees as pollinators. No bees, no food.

Bees pollinate a large portion of the world's major food crops.
Without pollinators, life would end. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

In Japan, farmers have been resorting to manually pollinating their crops with armies of laborers. They use feather-dusters. And while it's true that some Japanese farmers have hand-pollinated their crops for decades now in order to improve yields, the reality is that many farmers are doing it these days because they have no choice.

The question of what is causing these mass bee deaths still goes unanswered, but we now have evidence that a portion of the die-offs are caused by agricultural pesticides. There may be other factors too, including transgenic (i.e. GMO) crops, mites, a viral component, and (some say) cellular phones. Another factor may be the lack of genetic diversity in the bee populations being used commercially.

And, whether Monsanto and Bayer can be blamed for the problem or not, the ultimate culprits are consumers who demand cheap food, at practically any cost to the animals, the planet, and the future. Couple that with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that many people have about their food (they don't want to know their strawberries are saturated with carcinogens, their potatoes are irradiated, and their apples are testing positive for pesticides) and it's a wonder the bees haven't died off sooner.

Cheap produce fills the grocery store, and much of it (except the organics) has been doused with the very pesticides that are wiping out the pollinators. Even the seeds that are used by conventional farmers are often bathed in chemicals before they are planted. Consumers kid themselves if they believe CFIA or some other agency is protecting them from these poisons. The sad fact is this: the large Agri-chemical businesses dominate the food supply and the civil government, and the only ones who have the power to stand up to them are consumers, who can vote with their pocketbooks.

Buy organic, locally if possible. It's the only way you can be certain that you're not eating transgenic "foods" bathed in Roundup. And, for every dollar you spend on organic produce, that's one less dollar going to farms that spray bee-killing pesticides.

So, my point. Other than buying organic, a wonderful way to help save the bees is to grow plants that bees love --- flowering fruit trees like apple, crabapple, pears and plums, or shrubs like lavender, or even pots of clover.

Flowering crabapple trees are great for attracting bees. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

And so that's what we're doing this spring and summer --- vastly increasing our fruit trees, and our lavender. As for the clover, it's pretty much already taken over the lawn, so we'll call that done :) Actually our farm pastures are loaded with clover, and it's a delight to see the bees cruising the tiny pink and white flowers when they bloom.

If you live in the city, you might not have anything more than a balcony to grow things. Still, maybe some bee-friendly plants are a possibility.

Another thing: encourage Canada's beekeepers by buying their honey, organic preferably, and locally produced if you can find it. You can buy unpasteurized organic honey in the store, produced here in Canada. Much of the so-called "honey" sold in the stores is either fake honey (some Chinese exporters have perfected a recipe which tastes like honey but actually isn't, yet is sold as honey) or brought in from foreign countries and re-packaged as North American, and laden with chemical residues.

This issue about the bees is turning out to be a big one. I'm hopeful that as more consumers become aware of it, the tide can be turned, the bees can thrive, and the amazing process of natural pollination can flourish as it's meant to.

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