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May 07 2013

Where The Hell Are The Bees?

The forsythia bloomed at the edge of the yard
An explosion of yellow and gold;
An abundance of nectar—but where were the bees?
Disappearing… or so I’ve been told.

So, yeah, the first few lawn-mowings of spring used to be a harrowing affair. My yard has a border of forsythia on one side, which used to be inundated with bees when it bloomed. The past few years, I can mow with impunity; I stop and scan the flowers, knowing there should be bees there! But they aren’t there. My redbuds used to attract a variety of bees and wasps; we’ll find out in a few days, maybe a week, when the buds open.

Today was the first day I saw any substantial numbers of Hymenoptera at all–some wasps, some hornets, and an astonishing number of bumblebees (or maybe carpenter bees, or probably both), far more interested in one another than in me as I made my way through them with gardening gear.

My apple trees are getting ready to blossom–they are young, so this is only the third year of flowers, and last year’s late frost meant that I had a total of one apple make it to maturity. It was then partially eaten by a worm, which was then thoroughly eaten by a bird. I found the half-apple on the ground. And yes, dammit, I ate it. It was superb.

But I digress. My apple trees are getting ready to blossom, and I have never hoped for bees so much as right now. Mind you, I’ve never had to–my heirloom tomatoes had plenty of bees in past years. So… Where the hell are the bees?

What we have lost in bees, we appear to be making up in reasons why we have fewer bees. I have always wanted to keep a hive (Cuttlefamily does not agree, and currently outvote me). I hope they last long enough that I will be able to.

For both our sakes. And so much more.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Becca Stareyes

    I know at least one likes to hang outside my living room window while I work; I can hear it. Who knows what looks or smells so tempting inside my apartment that it thinks buzzing at the screen will let it in.

    My uncle keeps bees as a hobby. Thankfully his hives are doing fine AFAIK.

  2. 2
    ReallyChiral

    Why not ask around and see if someone with land will let you keep a hive at their place? It’s a fairly common practice. I just built a top bar hive and installed my first bees in it. I don’t even care if I get honey, I’m just happy to have them around :) I’d never seen drones before, and watching the workers build natural comb is a real treat.

    btw, I post occasionally around FTB as chiral, but I couldn’t figure out how to log in. It seems like the new method assumes I am a regular user of one of the log in methods and don’t just log in a couple of times a year when I have something to say

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    A great idea, ReallyChiral, though I must admit much of the reason I want to keep bees is for my garden and for my apple trees. But you are quite right, providing bees is a good thing anyway. I do try to provide homes for lots of the wild bees, with special homes for many of the sorts we have around here.

    Oh… try (It may or may not work–it works for me, but it isn’t terribly obvious) the “FTB” button to the upper left of the comment box when you write a comment. It allows you to use your FtB login without asking for one of the others (which I don’t use, either).

  4. 4
    Chiral

    Hey, that worked! Thanks. It appears I wasn’t mistaken about it being a WordPress login, I just had the wrong type of WordPress login :)

    I remember reading something about how native bees might be even better pollinators than honeybees (ah, here it is http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/10/native-bees-are-better-pollinators-honeybees) Providing homes for them is probably a really good option if you can’t keep a hive. Although, I do hope you get a chance to have one eventually. I know I’m not the only one to find working with them to be a very happy thing.

  5. 5
    Robert B.

    I started my first garden this year (never had a yard before.) I’ve never been so happy to see wasps, even though the only thing blossoming so far is my little strawberry patch. My neighborhood is pretty urban, so I worried that there might not be any pollinators around.

  6. 6
    Robert B.

    Aaaand now that I’ve thought to look, Wikipedia says wasps don’t carry pollen. Drat.

  7. 7
    Lofty

    It seems one of the factors in the death of bees is their artificial diet of high-fructose corn syrup instead of natural honey and pollen. Anyway, you can probably give an Australian bee exporter a “buzz”, at least until the Varroa mite arrives here and devastates our bee industry too.

  8. 8
    navigator

    When I moved into this house 20 years ago, I planted the edge of the property in clover, crown vetch, and bird’s foot trefoil. I had bees and bumblebees all year. Now I rarely see them. It seems no one really knows why the hives are dying out. Very sad.

  9. 9
    djlactin

    Here’s a homologous question: Where are all the starlings (In N America)? When I was a kid in the 60s we would see immense flocks of them; powerlines would sag under their weight; native species were seriously threatened (seldom ever saw a crow or magpie). Now starlings are few and far between and the native species are thriving. I think the answer is that the “local ecosystem” adapted: selection favored native species (and individuals in them) that behaved in ways that made them able to compete with the starlings. Perhaps even native pathogens switched hosts. On top of this, all starlings were descended from 6 pairs released in Central Park in NYC, so their genepool was limited in diversity. Their population crash was perfectly natural and can be easily explained by simple evolutionary principles.

    Why do I digress like this? Well, perhaps the situation is similar. After all, bees are introduced and have a limited ancestral genepool…

    I realize that my idea may be perceived as

  10. 10
    DaveL

    I currently have four hives in my yard and will be adding two more before the month is out. Is there any specific reason the Cuttlefamily doesn’t want you to keep bees, such as an allergy? If you ever do win them over, I’d suggest starting with two hives – it helps a beginning beekeeper spot when something is abnormal with one of the hives.

  11. 11
    Cuttlefish

    They’re just squicked out by the idea of all those stinging insects so close to where they live. Which, given the numerous wasp nests in our eaves, is kind of silly.

  12. 12
    DaveL

    Once you get about 5 meters from the hive, your chance of a sting is really no different from being 500 meters away. I do get a sting about once or twice a year while working the hives, which really proves how amazingly gentle they are, given that I’m opening their homes and rearranging things in there. If there are any local beekeeping clubs near you, they may have ideas to help convince your family, or you might find opportunities for keeping hives elsewhere than at your home.

  13. 13
    Callinectes

    Spring only last week arrived in the UK and there are no bees here at all.

  14. 14
    Randomfactor

    Cuttlefish, Ed and PZ have a link at the bottom of their pages which apparently senses whether I’m logged in to comment, and prompts me to do so if not–WITHOUT taking me to the WordPress dashboard page instead of the comment box which irks me no end.

    I’ve been conducting a low-level campaign to get it made standard for all FTB blogs. With no luck, of course. Story of my life…

  15. 15
    Randomfactor

    The trick appears to be a redirect to the currently-viewed blog post. Gotta be a piece of stealable code, I can’t see Ed typing all that stuff manually every time.

  16. 16
    Trebuchet

    Cuttlefish: Look into Mason Bees. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mason_bee

    They’re solitary, non-stinging, and I think good pollinators. You can actually buy nest blocks with pupating larvae at the garden store here.

  17. 17
    Ben P

    Where are all the starlings (In N America)?

    There were the (usual) huge flocks of starlings here in rice country.

  18. 18
    Trebuchet

    Of course, the loss of every starling in North America would be a very good thing. Pretty much the epitome of invasive species.

  19. 19
    Kevin

    Colony collapse disorder is what they call it…it’s a big deal down in my neck of the woods that depends on bees for the apple industry.

    Thing is, the empty hives don’t have any dead bees in them. They’re just empty.

    We are soooooooooo screwed.

  20. 20
    Cuttlefish

    I don’t know which one saddens me more (both are bad–actually, both are horrible), missing the bees, or missing the bats. In both cases, I remember spending time watching them–in daylight and at night, respectively–but I haven’t seen many of them in years. I was excited to see two bats last summer, when I used to see them constantly!

  21. 21
    Carlos Cabanita

    New kinds of pesticides that threaten the bees, the neonicotinoids, have just been forbidden in the EU, after a hard activist campaign and with the fierce opposition of Bayer AG. Besides signing up for the bees, I know little else.

  22. 22
    tmscott

    Hey Cuttlefish,
    I agree with Trebuchet, try orchard mason bees, they are about 300x better pollinators than honeybees and they don’t sting. The a social insects but not colony builders they are solo nest builders. Each female builds her own nest. They are a blast to watch, and very industrious.

    tms

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