Colony Collapse Disorder is a mysterious disorder that no one seems to be able to solve or pinpoint what is causing it.

Beekeepers first sounded the alarm about disappearing bees in 2006. Seemingly healthy bees were simply abandoning their hives en masse, never to return while some beekeepers reported the normally busy insects wandering in drunken circles at the base of the hive doors, wingless, desiccated, and sluggish.

Without bees to pollinate many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, the United States could lose $15 billion worth of crops. The list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds … and it goes on and on. The bee is the smallest visible link in what keeps the food on our tables and its illness is illustrative

Why are the bees leaving? Theories abound. Scientists studying the disorder believe a combination of factors could be making bees sick, including pesticide exposure, invasive parasitic mites, an inadequate food supply and a new virus that targets bees’ immune systems. More potential culprits have been suggested — from bad corn syrup to genetically modified corn to pesticides to miticides Recent research is also bringing electric fields and cellphone signals into question.

I believe we need to study more of HOW the bees are kept and why it’s not sustainable at all. Beekeeping practices have changed drastically over the decades. Modern apriests now transport their bees in semi-truck throughout the United States, bringing their hives from crop to crop. Twenty years ago, when a beeyard failed, bad beekeeping practices could most likely be blamed for the collapse. Keeping bees is a precarious dance with nature anyway: infections rage, queens die, drought withers flowering plants, equipment rots, vandals and bears and skunks raid . But today, the problem lies with the precarious, single-cropped, single-minded state of modern agriculture. It is too unvaried, too big, and too much is being asked of the bees that service it. It’s time to re-think local agriculture — including localizing the bees that pollinate our crops.

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Jordanne grew up as a farm girl living in the most unlikely of places -- the concrete jungle sprawl of Los Angeles. She lives on the Urban Homestead where she shares her life with a wacky and always entertaining menagerie of goats, ducks, chickens, cats, bees, and stray animals that land up on her porch. Her passions are the natural and sustainable care of animals and her knowledge lies in successfully integrating "farm" animals into the city lifestyle. Jordanne also contributes to her family's blog called Little Homestead in the City -- chronicling this bizarre, beautiful, and often hilarious journey they're on.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the article Jordanne. As keepers of Russian-American honeybees, we have much hope for the future.

    As your family already knows, these bees require less food for overwintering.

    They always have a bevy of queens-in-waiting in case the Matriarch should die or the colony become divided.

    They are genetically fastidious groomers and housekeepers, keeping mites at bay.

    They are genetically able to tolerate severe cold, and with a little kind attention to placement of the hive in shade, will tolerate extremes of heat calmly.

    They possess enough natural immunity to common apiary infections that chemicals are virtually unnecessary.

    They are prolific honey producers.

    In return for all they give us, we have chosen not to use smoke on our bees, but instead cover them with a lightweight manipulation cloth to maintain calm while the hive is opened up. The abundance of honey is shared with them, as well as the residual wax which takes so much of their energy to make. The bees are never rented out, and their desire for isolation during the heavy brood-rearing period is respected. Other folks, of course, will have different methods.

    Thank you again for your wonderful writing and photos!

  2. Hi Jordanne – Well from a different perspective, I as you know am in England, so some of what you are saying applies and other doesn’t – but we are on an organic farm (it’s large, we’re small and in the middle of it) with a great deal of diversity and wild stuff.
    But we lost our bees 🙁
    We just had one hive and we don’t know what went wrong – we did have an exceptionally (for us) cold and snowy winter.
    We do have overhead powerlines, and we are near houses with wireless networks and cellphones.
    I’m going to be looking into natural beekeeping before we attempt to replace ours.
    Jackie
    x

  3. As a fellow beekeeper, one of the theories put out makes a lot of sense to me – it’s talked about in the movie “Nicotine Bees”, which theorizes a connection between CCD and the rise of neonicotinoid pesticides. The theory has made quite an impact in Europe, and particularly in Southern Italy, where banning those pesticides has led to a dramatic drop in collapsed colonies. Looking up the movie in Google will lead you to a number of interesting news articles about it.

    keepin’ it a-buzz,
    Lucy Blais, Milk and Honey Farm
    Covelo, CA

  4. I work with “Backwards Beekeepers” here in L.A. and one common thread we’ve noticed with CCD seems to be High Fructose Corn Syrup, which hte “professional” beekeepers use to feed the commercial hives after they’re raped and pillaged the colonies of ALL of their honey just as winter is setting in. The bees make honey for one main purpose… to live off of during the winter. If God had made them to live off of corn syrup, then you’d see just that… but they don’t. Its not nice to fool mother nature.

    My apiary has the main hive, a 2nd full super, a queen separator, and two smaller 10 frame supers. Out of respect to the hive, I do not tamper with the lower supers. I may not “yield” as much honey as the pros do, but I have happy and healthy bees.

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