Where Are The Bees! Prepper Update
It is estimated that 1/3 of the food we eat is due to honey bee pollination. Honey bees transfer pollen and seeds fertilizing plants to produce crops. Bees pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species that are responsible for 90% of world’s food. For preppers understanding the potential threat from a decline in honey bees is critical as well storing and using honey. In 2010, Cornell reported that honey bees are responsible for pollinating $19 billion worth of crops including almonds, cherries, blueberries, apples, oranges, squash, sunflowers, clover, alfalfa, sugar beets, asparagus, broccoli carrots, and onions. WOW! In addition, honey bees improve the crop yield of other foods such as eggplant, lima beans, peppers, soybeans and strawberries. What doesn’t the honey bee do?
Honey stores at room temperature essentially forever. If it crystallized just put the jar in a warm (but not boiling) water bath to melt the crystallized sugar. Honey is a great substitute for sugar in cooking or on its own. For medical uses adding to teas for sore throats and coughs is just the start. Honey can help with parasites when mixed with vinegar, support sleep and even reduce acid reflux. Honey can be applied topically to wounds and burns to assist healing and provide an antiseptic dressing. Of course, we see the energy benefits of honey and for preppers it’s a great way to store calories. Easyprepper.net strongly advises that you maintain a couple of hives to not only support the bee population but provide a useful source of food and medicinal products and potentially a source of income/barter in a extended emergency. Everybody can raise bees, even in an urban setting. In NYC there are thousands of roof top beekeepers and the bees do exceptionally well. Here in Montana, our state is the 4th largest honey producer in the USA. Easyprepper does not carry honey products at the moment but stay tuned for our own brand later this summer.
However, honey bee populations have been declining for several decades from 4.5 million U.S. honey producing colonies in 1980 to 2.44 million in 2008. Reduction in bee colonies have been partly attributed to invasive parasitic mites, bacterial infections, fungi, and increased insecticide use.
However, in 2006, about 35 states reported unusually high losses of hives (30 – 90% for some beekeepers). Additionally, the losses were uncharacteristic to known causes of death: sudden loss of worker bees and the queen and young brood remained in the hive with lots of honey and pollen. Since colonies cannot sustain themselves without worker bees, this mass bee die-off has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Because of the importance of honey bees to sustaining our food supply, dramatic efforts have been undertaken by bee experts around the globe to understand the cause of CCD.
Many potential causes for CCD have been theorized and include infection by bacteria, fungi, viruses, new pathogens such as Nosema, the invasive varroa mite and pesticide poisoning. Stresses include poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with little nutritional value and migratory stress. Additionally, some combination of these factors may be at fault.
The USDA formed an ad hoc CCD Working Team and CCD Steering Committee composed of federal program leaders and Land Grant University Scientists and Administrators (Bee Alert Technology of Montana is a member of the CCD Working Team). With the objectives of improving the survey and data collection on CCD, analyzing CCD colony samples collected to determine the prevalence of various pests, pathogens, stress and exposure to pesticides. With the sequencing of the honey bee genome occurring in late 2006, research can be more deterministic. The genome has shown that bees are weak at detoxifying enzymes and have weak immune systems.
Although some have suggested that GMO crops are a to blame for CCD, large bee die-offs occurred in Europe where GMO crops are not widely grown, and CCD-affected colonies do not appear to be correlated with GMO crop distribution. Therefore, GMO crops alone are unlikely to be the cause of CCD.
In 2010, Jerry Bromenshank, University of Montana professor and bee researcher, led a team of university and army scientists to run ground honeybees from CCD-infected hives through a liquid-chromoatograph proteomics mass-spectometry device capable of quantifying as many as 30,000 proteins per sample. Their tests revealed a combination of an insect iridescent virus and the Nosema fungus. The Nosema is in spores which the bees ingest that allow the fungus to spread in their gut. The virus or the Nosema by itself would make the bees sick, but it is believed that the combination is what causes them to die off. The bee may get an infection from one or the other which causes the suppression of its immune system which allows a secondary infection to cause the bee-death. Although more research may be needed to confirm this preliminary diagnosis, there appears to be a causal connection.
The good news is that the EPA is reporting that CCD has been declining over the past 5 years. The number of hives that do not survive the winter months averaged about 28% since 2006-2007, but dropped to 23% for 2014-2015 winter. The number of hive losses attributed to CCD has dropped from about 60% in 2008 to 31% in 2013.
However, given the importance of honey bees to our food supply, the increasing problems attacking honey bee populations make it imperative that we do our part, no matter how small to protect the species. Try beekeeping as a hobby! They are so intelligent, social and organized. If you want to start small, then limit pesticide use in your yard and stock raw honey from your local farmer’s market. Honey is a humectant, antibacterial, antimicrobial and sweeter than sugar. It can be used as a wound cleaner, diaper-rash treatment, burn treatment, moisturizer, provide relief from acid reflux, natural cough syrup, and it even balances your blood sugar, AND sealed honey never spoils – stock up!
- Thomas Walker