Bees and Pollination: How Important is It?
In a land far away, in an unknown time, people go from apple blossom to apple blossom, tree to tree, with pots of pollen and paintbrushes. What are they doing? They are painting the pollen onto each individual, tiny blossom, hoping that they can pollinate all the blossoms in time to produce the minimum quota of apples that year. This may seem like a strange dystopian novel, but in all reality, it is much more realistic than you may think. Chinese families have been doing this for several years, but why?[i] Why aren’t the bees pollinating the flowers? Chinese farmers had been using pesticides, yet nearly fifty percent of them didn’t realize that their pesticide usage could kill the wild, local pollinators.[ii]
Many people have heard of the potential bee pollination crisis, but what would happen if all the honey bees were suddenly gone? Experts have concluded that if the bees are gone, then we would have to live on a staple of wind-pollinated crops, such as corn, wheat, barley, and rice.[iii] Bees pollinate up to one third of our fruits and vegetable, so without bees we would be missing a lot of fruits and vegetables in our diets, but we would also be missing things such as alfalfa and nuts.[iv] More than 15 billion dollars’ worth of crops get pollinated by bees in the United States.[v] Since bees are obviously a very important resource, what measures are being taken to ensure that bee populations remain strong? Locally, what is Vermont doing to keep bee populations steady? What do farmers, beekeepers, and the general public say about the importance of bees to pollination?
Vermonters are helping bees have access to more nectar through the Forage Legume Bee Project, which is put on by the University of Vermont Extension along with the Vermont Beekeepers Association. It encourages farmers to plant more flowering forage legumes, a legume being a plant that is grown for food, such as alfalfa and clover.[vi] These plants are necessary for dairy farmers to grow to feed their herds, but they also fill the nectar gap as mid to late summer flowing plants, allowing the honey bees to thrive. The state of Vermont has also added three varieties of bumble bees to the Vermont Threatened and Endangered List, saying that, “Pollinators such as bees, moths, and butterflies are critically important to Vermont’s agriculture, but many are in decline nationwide.” Between April 2014 and April 2015, Vermont beekeepers lost about forty-two percent of their honey bee colonies. [vii] The decline of honey bees has been accredited to mites, pesticides, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and other causes. [viii]
Beekeepers have been noticing the decline of honey bees as well, with Lynn Miles from the Vermont Beekeepers Association commenting, “We wouldn’t have the world as we know it without [honey] bees. They are very important for so much of our pollination.”[ix] Mark and Sherri Angler from the Vermont Beekeeping Supply said, “We have 50 hives, we don’t lend or rent them out, but the bees fly to neighboring farms and pollinate [the] plants.” [x] Paula M. of the American Chestnut Foundation agreed, saying, “Honey bees are an important pollinator for the long flowers of the American Chestnut tree. They [bees] are totally important for the breeding program.” [xi]
Some farmers host bee hives on their farms to improve pollination of their crops.[xii] These pollinators benefit everyone, the farmers, the beekeepers, and the surrounding farms and orchards. Organic farmer, Christine Bourque from Blue Heron Farm said, “We rent 29 to 32 hives of [honey] bees from North Woods Apiaries every May and keep them until December or until it gets cold.” When asked if she noticed a significant change in the pollination of their plants, she said, “We have always had a lot of [wild] bees since we don’t use pesticides, but we have noticed a positive difference, not huge, but definitely an increase.” [xiii] Fields aren’t the only places that need to be pollinated. When Jason Wish from Wishwell Farms was asked about how he pollinated the plants in his greenhouses, he said, “Instead of going along every [tomato] plant with a vibrating tool to do it we chose bees. We use domesticated bumble bees.” He went on to say that they use bumble bees instead of honey bees since the honey bees “. . . don’t stay around [the greenhouses] as well.” [xiv] From other farmers that were interviewed, the unanimous consensus was that bees are very important and our world would not be the same without honey bees.
Bees are an extremely important part of our world, but they are often taken for granted, as one farmer did when asked where the bees came from that pollinate her hay fields, she replied, “I don’t ever think about that aspect of it.” 9 It is not just honey bees that pollinate our plants, it is also bumble bees and additional pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, and other insects. Let’s not let our world become the dystopian, bee-free environment of our nightmares! Instead, let’s protect our bees, our natural pollinators, and our future.
[i] Goulson, Dave. "Decline of Bees Forces China's Apple Farmers to Pollinate by Hand." Decline of Bees Forces China's Apple Farmers to Pollinate by Hand. Chinadialogue.net, 10 Jan. 2012. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2016. <https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5193-Decline-of-bees-forces-China-s-apple-farmers-to-pollinate-by-hand>.
[ii] Pearson, Gwen. "Will We Still Have Fruit If Bees Die Off?" Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 20 May 2014. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2016. <http://www.wired.com/2014/05/will-we-still-have-fruit-if-bees-die-off/>.
[iii] Goulson, Dave, and Natalie Muller. "Pollinating by Hand: Doing Bees' Work | Environment | DW.COM | 31.07.2014." DW.com. DW.com, 31 July 2014. Web. Feb. 2016. <http://www.dw.com/en/pollinating-by-hand-doing-bees-work/a-17822242>.
[iv]Pennsylvania Apiculture Inc. "Beekeeping, National Honey Bee Day What Honey Bees Do." Beekeeping, National Honey Bee Day What Honey Bees Do. Pennsylvania Apiculture Inc., 2010 - 2011. Web. Feb. 2016. <http://www.nationalhoneybeeday.com/whathoneybeesdo.html>.
[v] Holland, Jennifer S. "The Plight of the Honeybee." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 10 May 2013. Web. Feb. 2016. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130510-honeybee-bee-science-european-union-pesticides-colony-collapse-epa-science/>.
[vii] Vermont Fish and Wildlife. "Nine Species Added to T & E List." Vermont Fish and Wildlife. Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 25 June 2015. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2016. <http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=73163&pageId=269142>.
[viii] Agriview. "Vermont's Pollinators." Vol. 76, Number 16 Vermont’s Pollinators: More Than Just Honey Bees (2012): 1, 8, 9+. Tutoringvermont.org. Agriview, 4 Sept. 2012. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2016. <http://tutoringvermont.org/yap/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/9-14-2012Agriview1.pdf>.
[ix] Miles, Lynn, Vermont Beekeepers Association. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
[x] Angler, Mark and Sherri, and Vermont Beekeeping Supply. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
[xi] Murakami, Paula. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
[xii] St. Albans Co-op, Amy. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
[xiii] Bourque, Christine. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
[xiv] Wish, Jason. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Online interview. 20 Jan. 2016.
Cleary, John. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
Dan. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.
Delaplane, Keith S. First Lessons in Beekeeping. Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons, 2007. Print.
Flottum, Kim. The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. Gloucester, MA: Quarry, 2005. Print.
S., Claire. "Bees and Pollination: How Important Is It?" Personal interview. 26 Jan. 2016.