Guest Rant by Helen Yoest
I was only six years old when Rachel Carson changed my world. And by all standards, Ms. Carson influenced a generation with her book, Silent Spring. That was some powerful stuff.
I was gung-ho all the way. I earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in both environmental science and engineering. For 20 years I worked as an air pollution engineer, doing great work, but at the end of the day, it was just another business.
Yes, I was going to save the world! I was all about doing good. I followed every environmental movement…up to now, that is.
Most recently, the Save the Bee campaign was something I embraced, and rightfully so, right? As a professional gardener, I could help. I just knew I could!
There are dozens, if not hundreds of well-intended businesses, mostly nonprofits, taking your money to help save the bees! But at the end of the day, they are just another business. Yes, yes, I know many do good but have you ever noticed, they, too, follow trends? Hell, I even have a nonprofit helping homeowners build better backyards for birds, bees, and butterflies in my ecoregion 231.
Yesterday it was the Monarchs, today it’s the bees. What will it be tomorrow? I’ll leave that for another day. The focus of this piece is the European honey bee.
Finally, I took a step back and got a handle on what’s what. How did our world become so myopic? Quick, everyone, let’s save the Monarchs. Why are these same people not interested in saving the Queen? Yes, the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, in the same family as the Monarch, Danaus plexippus, also only uses milkweed as a host plant. Where’s the drum banging for the Queen. God Save The Queen!!!! Perhaps, it’s because their life story isn’t as interesting? The Monarch is the baby seal equivalent for butterflies.
All this began to worry me, and the save the bee campaign was the impetus to say, “Enough is enough!”
True confession. I am a twice failed beekeeper, and I’m feeling a great burden because of it. I jumped onto this trend only to realize I may have potentially contributed to the problem. Who knew?
These days, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is increasingly coming under threat by a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) and pests such as the Varroa mite and other bee pathogens. And now everyone wants to help. That’s good, right? Maybe not. Did you know, many experts now believe poor management practices of unskilled hobbyists have enabled the spread of the Varroa destructor mite? It’s a complex issue, but what if I, through my own poor hive management, contributed to the spread of Varroa mite. Geesh, I’m a do-gooder gone bad.
Even though I didn’t want the honey, I thought I was doing good by keeping bees…because I could. I have a pollinator garden, lots of nectar and pollen plants, and I was feeling a bit altruistic.
Once the second hive abandoned me, I gave up. Now in hindsight, this was probably for the best, even though I may have added to the problem. At least I wised up and decided to focus on the plants.
Here’s the rub. So many people today want to save the bees; they are signing up to be beekeepers. But in a recent research essay published in The Journal of Economic Entomology, Robert Owen argues that human activity is a key driver in the spread of pathogens afflicting the European honey bee and recommends a series of collective actions necessary to stem their spread. Please click here to learn more.
I submit if you want to save the bee or the Monarch and even the Queen, and our air and water, and even the world, it starts at home. Stop everything you’re doing, and start again; or at the very least, use a sundown strategy, but start today. Stop using chemicals and planting over-hybridized natives because they are new and improved. Go back to the basics.
You don’t need to be a beekeeper to save the bees. Leave it to the pros and very serious hobbyists. Just deciding to keep bees because you think you’re helping to save the European honey bee is naive and potentially destructive. In fact, I believe it already is. I’m of the opinion that if bees were cute like puppies or penguins, ill-prepared beekeepers thinking they are saving the bees will go to prison for animal abuse, no different than participating in a cockfight.
If you want to save the ecological world, stop using pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, use water wisely, and think right plant, right place. Gardening isn’t a competition; it’s a lifestyle. If you want to help, think native, including our native bees.
One Mason bee can pollinate the same amount of flowers as 100 honey bees. Think of the honey bee as helping big ag. Think of the mason bee as the home remedy for plant pollination. We have all we need already in our home gardens, assuming we make a hospitable home for all the pollinators. We don’t need to keep bees to help the bees; we just need to provide a pesticide-free places for them to forage. And get this, providing homes for our native bees has no barriers to entry. You can make your own or just leave your fall hollow stems up through the winter. But even that’s not the point. To save the bees, focus on your landscape, making it friendly for birds, bees, and butterflies. Change your myopic mission and look at the world with global glasses.
You will not save the Monarchs by planting milkweed if you are still using an organic treatment for mosquitoes. You don’t need to save bees by keeping bees. You can help at home. Forget the pesticides, even organic ones.
Think before you give big business money to help when you can do so for free at home. Think about how you can save the world starting at home. Think!