For the Love of Bees

Image credit: Earth Times

So, it is real: our most cherished pollinators, the bees, are experiencing astonishing declines in their population sizes. Bee populations are decreasing at shocking rates  primarily because of anthropogenic factors. It is time to put in some effort and give bees the space they deserve. Bees are a vital element in the continuity of diversity of thriving ecosystems, they are crucial pollinators, and they are producers of one of the most amazing sweets – honey.

This February I had the great honor to be a participant in the 2012 New Mexico Organic Conference held in Albuquerque, NM. There, I attended an inspiring workshop led by Les Crowder. Mr. Crowder is a biologist, educator, and nothing short of a beekeeping guru. He first learned the art of beekeeping from his grandfather in his organic garden. He then worked with commercial bee operations and realized that some of their practices were unsustainable, like the use of chemicals. So he came up with the design of the top bar hives, which are suitable for personal use or smaller operations. Today Mr. Crowder is  president of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association and his humbleness makes him a great inspiration for all those who come in contact with him.

Les Crowder. Top bar beekeeping system. Image credit: For the Love of Bees

Mr. Crowder’s love and passion for bees was evident as the workshop progressed. He taught the attentive crowd about the sophisticated existence of these amazing pollinators. He even emulated the buzz that a young queen bee makes before she hatches so that the older queen bee can find another home before her rival has a chance to kill her. He spoke about the way in which swarms find a new home by sending specialized bees in all directions to look for a good location with the proper entrance and orientation. When these bees find the ideal space, they leave their scent in the entrance and go back to the hive and perform a unique dance to let the others know the great news. Mr. Crowder also shared with us the different roles of all the bees in the beehive. He explained that the nectar collected by the bees eventually ripens into honey; it is essential to always keep honey raw to ensure its flavor and its beneficial enzymes for human consumption.

Bee swarm. Image credit: Albuquerque Beekeepers

Humans have an important role in working together to ensure the survival of other species. Mr. Crowder said, “Humans are super organisms all working together to make humanity.” The sad but true reality is that bees are dying due to our non-holistic agricultural practices. We need to stop using pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides. The lack of diversity in monocrops is also very harmful for bee populations. Mr. Crowder shared the interesting fact that in California up to 15 different insecticides have been found in pollen from almond trees. “We have to find a way to raise our food without all the ‘cides’,” he expressed. It is also crucial to step forward and plant habitat for bees to help them increase their pollinator power and honey production, even if you do not have a hive. Mr. Crowder encourages small-scale beekeeping as a “care taker role rather than an exploiter.”

Mr. Crowder is working hard to ban nicotinoids, which are one of the most widely used insecticides worldwide and affect the central nervous system of insects. Recently, these insecticides have been banned in Europe due to their connection with colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out 40% of bee populations in the US and Europe since 2003. Small amounts of nicotinoids do not kill bees per se, but they damage their nervous systems, and the result is that they cannot find their homes and the entire hive is not able to survive.

Neo-nicotinoids are still legally used in the US. Mr. Crowder informed us that companies that are doing the testing to guarantee that nicotinoids are not harmful to bees are the same companies that are selling the insecticides with EPA’s approval. What Mr. Crowder envisions is a future in which there would be independent testing on harmful pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to hopefully forever ban their use.

Bee on willow flower. Image credit: John Denne

So, as for the rest of us, we can help if we work together to ban nicotinoids, make a shift to support local sustainable agricultural practices rather than industrial agriculture, and develop good relationships with pollinators to ensure their survival to benefit humans and biodiversity as a whole.

Les Crowder’s book “Top Bar Beekeeping” will be published any day now. He also offers great educational events in New Mexico. For more info, visit For the Love of Bees.

Posted by Eva

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