The warm weather we had in March brought about the demise of the magnificent bee hive that hung from the large cypress tree at the entrance to the preserve. It must have made the wax just soft enough that gravity overpowered the bees' best efforts to keep the hive secured to the branch. It had lasted for years and I was so sorry to see it go. It was enormous. It must have housed thousands of bees. And it was a marvel of construction, with its undulating, almost molten looking honeycombs. Perhaps many bee hives are built like this. We don't usually have the benefit of seeing them, since they are usually tucked away inside the cavity of a tree. That's why this one was so remarkable and so special.
With any luck, not too many bees were killed by the fall and the colony will go to form a new hive somewhere else on the preserve. Sweet Springs actually has an amazing number of bee hives. The preserve provides optimal habitat for them, because the trees are all in various stages of decline and many of them have large, hollow cavities. The bees keep to themselves for the most part and go about their business of collecting pollen. I work amongst them all the time and have never had them get aggressive towards me, even in hot weather—which tends to get them a little agitated. Nonetheless, we do our best to keep them away from the trails and benches so they don't pose a hazard to visitors. Occasionally, this means hiring a professional bee keeper to come in and move a hive—a rather expensive proposition. It's certainly a lot less expensive than dealing with a lawsuit. Unfortunately, we've been threatened with those from time to time.
I feel honored to have so many honey bees at a time when the population as a whole is declining due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Over 30% of the hives in the country have succumbed to CCD and the problem appears to be getting worse, not better. Billions of bees have mysteriously abandoned their hives and perished. Scientists are still trying to fully understand the causes of colony collapse, but possible factors include parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, pesticides, or a combination of these.
As much as I love the honey bees, I also greatly appreciate our native pollinators. These, too, are in decline but the problem doesn't receive as much attention. We are fortunate to have a large variety of native bees in this country, since bees are far and away the most important pollinators. Bumblebees are perhaps the best known, but there are many others. Butterflies, flies and beetles also provide important pollination services. So why are the native pollinators on the wane as well, you ask? In this case, it's pretty clear that pesticides and the loss of the native plants with which these insects evolved are the chief causes. Douglas Tallamy makes a compelling argument for the avoidance of pesticides and use of native plants by the nation's gardeners in his book, Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. He notes that it is up to each of us individually to protect our wildlife, starting with the lowliest bug on up the food chain. He notes that "We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high."
If you don't have a place to tuck a native in your yard, come tend one of ours at Sweet Springs. Our next work party is Saturday, May 14th from 9-12 and all of our plants can greatly benefit from your caring touch.