I walked out to the bee yard on my nightly watch, expecting all to be well on the bee front.
It wasn't. In part, it's what makes beekeeping such an interesting challenge; I can never take the practice for granted. Nature is much too fickle.
One day the hive will be thriving and days later the queen will be missing without a clue to her disappearance, because she never leaves a note. I ponder and speculate--did she die? Find a better gig? Did she go on strike for better hours and higher pay?
So on this early evening, the sun almost set, the hive hadn't settled down; the bees were furiously dragging dead bees out the door, hitting the ground and tugging them as far away from the hive as possible. A pile of a thousand bees lay just beneath. I crouched low and watched until dark, when the bees should have been huddled in the hive, and not so driven and desperate.
Previously I would have been devastated and heartbroken to find so many dead bees, but this time I looked at it with a scientist's objectivity intent on finding a hypothesis to the death wave.
I snuck my gloved hand into the mayhem and picked up five little bees. They rested in my palm and I carried them like a pall bearer to the kitchen where I laid them on a chinet white sepulcher, then continued the procession up to my desk. I pulled out a magnifying glass. I was distressed to see each one died with an extended proboscis or tongue. A sign of pesticide poisoning.
What to do? I called the beloved county bee inspector Joey.
"Hmmm, I need to take a look." A day later Joey was at my side lamenting the box of dead bees.
"Pesticide poisoning. Does anyone have a problem with bees?"
"My neighbors love the bees. They've noticed how their garden produce has tripled in the last few years."
I've heard several times, "We never saw a peach until you started keeping bees." I think of my poor friend's berry patch in South Carolina that no longer produces because there are no bees to pollinate it. My patch has so many berries we can hardly keep up.
Joey continues his questions, "Has one of your neighbors recently sprayed?"
"I wouldn't know." Thank goodness I don't keep tabs on any of them.
"But," I answer Joey, "look at these beautiful lawns; they don't just happen. I think all my neighbors use a lawn service, and I respect this."
Joey agrees, but he talks to me about safe pesticide usage. "You really should talk to your neighbors. Let them know the simple ways they can help save bees." He hands me a stack of flyers to distribute.
We both wonder if lawn services would ever start spraying at dusk when the bees are safe in their hive. It seems like a great public relations move for a company that sprays poisons into a sensitive environment.
Joey again mentions the need to educate my neighborhood. I'm not much of an activist, but the Department of Agriculture and Food needs help. Bees need my help; the environment needs my help; our food supply needs help...and we all can help.
Preventing Pesticide Poisonings of Honeybee: by following simple guidelines, unintentional pesticide poisonings of bees can be reduced or eliminated altogether.
*If an insecticide poses a residual hazard to bees, 4-8 hours, only spray after bees have stopped foraging-between late evening and midnight.
*Pesticides with extended residual toxicity to bees-8 hours or more- should not be applied if plants in bloom are present.
*Don't allow pesticides to drift to non-target crops or weeds that are in bloom.
*If a pesticide is toxic to bees, try an alternative pesticide or other control if such options are available.
*Use the least hazardous formulation of the insecticide.
*If an insecticide is highly toxic to bees, ask beekeepers if their colonies can be moved prior to application.
*When temperatures are unusually low or dew is forecast, don't make applications. Bees are especially vulnerable during these conditions.
*Control weeds before they begin to bloom.
*Some blossom thinning agents are hazardous to bees