Let’s bee good

Think it’s weird to take an interest in bees?  How might their story be connected (and similar) to water?

A couple of summers ago, we moved into our first home: a little brick two-story in Mimico-by-the-lake, west Toronto.

If the place had eyes, it would have witnessed many changes over its 80 year old life: new layers of paint, neighbors in and out, high-rise condos changing the view.

If the place had a nose, I think it would have savored the sweet aroma of Mr. Christie’s food factory down the road, and simultaneously turned its nose up at the less inviting smell of algae along Lake Ontario’s shoreline.

And if the house could actually talk, what would its walls tell us?

Apparently, they would buzz, literally.  In our first year, a steady stream of black and yellow friends dropped by for a visit in our basement.

But we no longer see them.  Those bees disappeared after that first year.

I’ve since learned the disappearance of bees has become a worldwide concern.  Beekeepers in the US, France and other countries have reported a decline in populations, often referred to as colony collapse disorder.  No one knows for sure why.  They just don’t come home.

On St. Patrick’s Day this year, Evergreen screened the Canadian premier of the documentary film Vanishing of the Bees narrated by Ellen Page.  It was standing room only at the Brick Works in Toronto.  No need for green beer.  The venue showcased bee friendly businesses and honey-flavored local cuisine and ale.

[Side note re: another delightful thing about the venue: The bricks that line our home would have likely come from the once bustling brick factory located along the Don River.  Evergreen, together with its partners, recently revitalized this brownfield site into a vibrant community hub called the Brick Works.]

Vanishing of the Bees now ranks up there as one of my favorite documentaries.  It tells the story of bees through the eyes of everyday beekeepers and farmers.  I learned the following three things, noticing ways in which water tells a similar tale.

1. The significance of pollination

Bees are highly trained professionals.  They assist in producing one third of every bite — chocolate included!  The economic value of pollination is estimated at USD $212 billion per year worldwide, not to mention the value in nature for nature.   If we are concerned about the rising price of food now, imagine if there weren’t enough bees to pollinate plants and crops.

The same can be said for water.  Without water in the right place, at the right time and quality, it will become increasingly difficult to feed the planet.  As Liz Hendriks highlighted in her blog post yesterday, we need to recognize the significance of pollination and water resources, and protect them as valuable “natural capital”.

2. The importance of habitat

While most bees live in hives, they also hang out in brick walls.  This explains their interest in our house.  Unfortunately, they can only survive 24 hours away from their real home.  I guess the farther they need to go to get their fill of pollen, the more difficult it is to get back before curfew.

The film explains that the global shift toward massive monoculture food production (same thing planted row after row, field after field) means bees can only access food one or two weeks of the year, when that particular crop flowers.  Farmed bees now have to be trucked long distances to service other crops.  Lack of food and travel distances can wear the buzz right out of them.

In contrast, bee friendly habitat is diverse, with a mix of local plants, offering varied opportunities for bees to forage.  This habitat is easier on water resources too.  When we dramatically alter landscapes and steer away from native plants, we also shift the demands placed on water.

3. The cause for concern

Most importantly, bees are an indicator of overall planet health.  When bees get sick, one can assume their environment is suffering.  Today’s monoculture crops require intervention to keep critters at bay. Yet experts in the film said we rarely study the build up of chemicals over time and in combination before a new pesticide is put to market.  It is up to someone other than the manufacturer to prove cause for concern.

I guess we left it to the bees to speak up.  Unfortunately, their voice of protest is heard only in their refusal to show up for work.

I know we owe mass production of food, and its historical low cost, to advances in agricultural practices.  However, when I hear the nervous systems of bees have become a living laboratory, perhaps bees aren’t the only colony at risk of collapse, as pesticides seep into our land and water.

The United Nations released a report last month indicating a range of factors may be contributing to the decline of bees.  The destruction of habitat and agricultural practices are just two culprits in a complex web.  Recognizing the danger, the UN has called for a precautionary approach.

How to be good to bees (and water)

It turns out, actions that are good for bees, are also good for rivers, lakes and groundwater.  Here are some ways to “bee” friendly:

  • Buy or grow pesticide free food, whenever possible.  Buying local may also make it easier to find out how food is produced.  Speak up for the bees and the health of our rivers by voting with your fork.
  • Plant bee friendly flowers and gardens, incorporating native plants.  This helps provide habitat for wild bees and can reduce water needs.
  • If you are willing to go a step further, check out backyard beekeeping as a hobby.  Your flowers will thank you.  They say it is possible to do this in town, provided bylaws (and your neighbors – bring over honey!) allow it.
  • Seek out businesses that support bee friendly practices and products, and strive toward a smaller footprint.
  • Encourage governments to manage toxic substances, and reward them for keeping chemicals off land and out of water (e.g. progress made by Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act/strategy and initiatives linked to Ontario’s Clean Water Act).

While I wouldn’t advocate housing bees in your basement on purpose, seeing bees around is a good thing.  Looking out for them is even better.

What we eat, buy and do can have an immediate impact on the environment.  I’d rather we pay attention to indicators now and work toward change, than be stung by more news that our land, air and water no longer support life.

Join me in taking an interest in bees. Let’s be good to them, and, as Ms. Page eloquently said in Vanishing of the Bees — bee well.

 

Other bits on bees:

For blog followers: Excellent post by Karen Sloan at Wall Flower Studio.

For bookworms: A World without Bees (2009) by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum. Also a blog by same name.

For music lovers: Bee TV videos by Haagen Daas (Where my bees at?)

For kids & teachers: Resources from Pollination Canada and Ontario Beekeepers Association

For policy types: UN report Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators

For those wanting to learn more: Pollinator Partnership featured on Colbert Report and National Geographic; or consider hosting a screening of Vanishing of the Bees with help from Bee the Change.

Facebook group: Celebrate Day of the Honey Bee on May 29, 2011

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2 Responses to “Let’s bee good”

  1. Karen April 6, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Excellent post, Korice.
    Thanks for sharing all of this important information/links.
    Admittedly, I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Vanishing of the Bees”, but would very much like to.
    What’s happening to our pollinators is a huge wake up call, or at least it should be.
    I’m really hoping that more people take this issue seriously before it’s too late.
    K

  2. Sosso January 3, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    thank you MONSANTO !!!!

    bees are life , i would anything possible to help keep the environment healthy !!!

    Retrouve le meilleur du cul gratuit sur ce site proposant un maximum de vidéos et de photos de cul.

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