Hank Shelley

Column: Where have all the bees and birds gone?

Topping the stairs to a friend’s home at Tappen a couple days ago, I was confronted by two honey bee hives. Like happy little campers, the bees were targeting a profusion of wild roses surrounding the property. Kathy Meggyesi, owner of the hives, had it figured pretty good, as this gal knows her bees, collecting about 200 lbs of honey a season.

She also realizes the difficulty and problems the bees face in our ever-changing world of pesticide use and environmental change.

Sitting down with her to find out more, she explained that genetically changed plants like corn will kill bees. A chemical in the corn has a detrimental effect, as have other plants, in the pollinating stage. Colony collapse disorder, ranging from fungi/mites/stress/viruses, also play a part in honey bee collapse.

Other concerns are folks getting into bee- keeping, not sure of what they are doing.

Starting out is also quite expensive, by the time you purchase your supers, hives, queen and bees.

Swarming: She also described how a queen left a hive and travelled to a residence. The bees swarmed between a wall, creating not only a constant buzz but was expensive to have the bees removed.

Another friend in Sicamous was really disheartened when she found three bumblebees had died, after she had applied a weak solution of “Plant Prod” in water, over her flowers.

She loved her bumblebees who lived in a hole in the ground beside her bleeding heart bush.

As kids growing up on a small farm, there was an abundance of gentle bumblebees flitting about the garden, never stinging, even when disturbed. Too, there were always western bluebirds and butcher birds sitting on the fence wire, black cowbirds sitting on the cows’ backs, as they fed in the pasture. An abundance too of many other songbirds, which are absent in today’s world!.

My favourite has always been the bumblebee. But alas, four species are quickly disappearing in the U.S., with a 96 per cent decline and an 87 per cent shrinkage of their range. These bumblebees, are the most important pollinators of native plants. Bumblebees are noted for pollinating mostly tomatoes, blueberries and cranberries. There are 50 species of bumblebees, mostly frequenting the prairies and high alpine vegetation.

A parasite mainly affecting the bumblebee is the Nosema bombi. Despite the many pitfalls associated with bee-keeping, almost 2,000 folks in B.C. have started apiaries, since 2008.

For many years, orchardists and blueberry farmers contracted beekeepers to set up hives for pollinating their fruit and berry crops. Now, on a small scale approach, many cities and towns, like Calgary Kamloops and Vernon, allow beekeepers’ hives, in backyards and urban locations.

Important tips for those starting out: Take a beekeeping course. Provide undisturbed spots in the garden for pollinators and shelters.

Eliminate the use of pesticides. Join your local beekeepers association. Learn more at www.urbanbeenetwork.ca.

For the many of us that love honey, the health benefits are great. Taking a teaspoon of honey at bedtime, boosts the immune system. Honey also has antioxidants – compounds that fight heart disease and cancer. Let’s all work environmentally to do what we can to help the bees help us.