Locals take steps to protect bees

Courtesy Photos Deborah Muth displays some of the parts needed to build a hive.

Montanans like honey and bees like Montana. The state typically ranks in the top ten for honey production. Montana bees are in demand in California traveling there each year to pollinate a huge chunk of our nation’s vegetables. Honey bees are seriously threatened worldwide and the losses are increasing.

In March, 2013, the New York Times (NYT) reported on a growing catastrophe in honey bee pollination: “Bret Adee, who is one of the owners of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses. ‘We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,’ he said.

While a 5-10 percent loss was normal prior to 2005’s “colony collapse disorder,” bee losses have grown from one third to as high as 50 percent. Big Sky Honey owner Bill Dahl, Fairview told NYT “’he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.’” He said, “‘We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.’”

In Carbon County, many people are starting to take steps to promote and protect bees locally.
Deborah Muth of Red Lodge joined the growing number of hobby beekeepers. After a recent course in beekeeping in Bozeman, she purchased bees and supplies. She keeps her bees warm in her garage.

“With our little bees hive colonies here,” she said, “we are assembling and placing them in our gardens soon.” She is taking no chances with their food. “I think we really need to make sure that the available food for our bees within the 3 miles range from where we locate the hives is clean.”
Muth and her friend (and fellow beekeeper) Polly Hawkins will feed their bees only the organic sugar syrup they make until the bees start to make their own honey. Her cousin, Robert Yack, raises his own bees in Utah.

Red Lodge rancher Ivan Thrane permitted hives to be placed on his land by beekeepers. At the end of season he received a healthy supply of honey- a win-win situation.

The USDA says a quarter of the American diet (others say one-third) from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination. Beef cattle eat a lot of alfalfa, a pollinated crop. Fewer bees mean smaller crop harvests and hig her food prices.
Europe, Britain and some U.S. researchers believe new, powerful pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves could be an important factor in colony collapse disorder.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) labeled the pesticide clothianidin as being an “unacceptable” danger to bees. EFSA found the Bayer CropScience study self-serving. The EPA has been criticized as the using the Bayer study as its sole basis for neonicotinoid use approval. The study began after the deaths of 300-500 million bees in German, where Bayer CropScience neonicotinoid products are used and where the company is based. The EPA has not banned neonicotinoids so far. Montana follows the EPA.

State Entomologist Cam Lay believes it is an active question whether neonicotinoids’ subtle sublethal effect on honeybees applies to levels bees encounter in the fields; he feels drought was significant in bee stress and 2012 deaths.

Neonicotinoid use in the US is widespread. The Alliance for Natural Health stated, “At least 143 million of the 442 million acres—that is, nearly one-third—of US cropland is planted with crops treated with one of three neuroactive insecticides related to nicotine (a newer class of pesticide called neonicotinoids), all of which are known to be highly toxic to bees: clothianidin, imidacloprid, and/or thiamethoxam.” Included are many soy and corn crops. The bee ingests the nectar containing these neurotoxins and dies. It also kills its larvae.

In California, 1.6 million hives of bees recently finished pollinating 80 percent of US almonds. Almonds exemplify the crop risk of disappearing bees. A multi-billion dollar export crop crucial to California agriculture, it requires almost two-thirds of U.S. commercial hives. Recently, the EPA sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts there, to the San Joaquin Valley for discussions but the next EPA review is not until 2018.

Honeybee Centre (Canada) cites a common (unproven) Albert Einstein quote, “If the bees disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more men.” The statement always provokes “a buzz.”

On April 7, Britain’s House of Commons cited the government’s inadequate assessment of neonicotinoid pesticides and effects on bees. It called for a moratorium in the U.K. by 2014 and an immediate halt of home/garden use.

The USDA National Honey Report showed good growing prospects for February in Montana in the amount of moisture received east of the Divide. The first natural pollen or nectar sources are expected to be available now. Many Montana bees are in warmer storage sites or in California, pollinating. Strong demand was reported for pollination and honey.

To support bees you can raise your own bees; share property with beekeepers for a generous share of honey in return, or plant bee friendly flowers such as alfalfa, clematis, dandelions, early anemones, crocuses and clover.

“I do everything I can to support the bees,” said Johanna Hergenrider, Bridger. “I plant bee balm and raspberries. I have bottle walls. I report the big, fuzzy (critically endangered) “Bombus” bee when I see it.” She said Japan lacks enough bees. “They have to pollinate each pear by hand.” She warns, “If there are no bees, we’re done!”

The BBC states, “Global demand for honey constantly exceeds supply, and with bee colonies mysteriously disappearing in the US and Europe, pure honey is becoming a valuable – and expensive - commodity. The price of honey in the US is rising more than 6% annually, and the market globally is expected to hit $12 billion by 2015.” It states honey is the only food that insects produce that humans eat regularly. It’s packed with healthy micro-nutrients, and for thousands of years honey has been used for its medicinal value. It is a healthy and natural sweetener. It is also antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antifungal.

Honey was used by the Arabs in 50 A.D. and early Egyptians. The Greeks said Cupid dipped his arrows in the nectar. Honey promotes healing when smeared on wounds.

Production of this liquid gold is a very slow, decentralized process, not artificially reproduced or mass manufactured. You need space, wild flowers, time for pollination, and of course, honey bees.
So, when you cannot afford to buy your sweetheart something rare and precious, don’t despair. If you haven’t got much money, you might buy your honey…honey.