In early November, a beloved Italian Honeybee Queen and approximately 30,000 of her daughters and sons mysteriously abandoned their abundantly honeyed rooftop hive in south Minneapolis near Lake Hiawatha to rejoin the Creator.
The cause of the colony collapse is unknown, but clues point to fungicide poisoning. At least 137 cells were contaminated with fungicide. Although they numbered in the thousands, the bees acted as a unified organization of egg layer, nursemaids, guards, builders, field workers and studs. They left behind stunned and saddened humans who took joy in their daily presence.
The bees worked the flower gardens of south Minneapolis in 2014 and contributed to the city’s commonwealth. They were known for their docile nature and their unique cream soda coloring. Special thanks to the University of Minnesota Bee Squad for their excellent care of the colony last summer.
It was a hard winter for honeybees in the Twin Cities. In addition to my colony’s collapse in November, I learned from the Bee Squad recently that 50 percent of the colonies they managed died over the winter. Fifty percent. Sound the alarm.
While the exact cause of colony collapse disorder remains unknown, evidence points to the cumulative effect of these assaults on pollinators: Lack of quality habitat; pervasive exposure to “sub-toxic” levels of neonicotinoids in pollen and nectar; increasingly treatment-resistant Varroa mites; and exposure to the plethora of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are abundantly used outdoors.
It is easy to fall into despair about the multilayered global environmental crisis unfolding before us, pollinator mortality being one manifestation. But there is good news: You can make a difference for pollinators in our city by your actions this very growing season.
Here are some ways to help bee populations survive:
1. Purchase neonicotinoid-free seeds and plants.
In Minneapolis, your best bets for purchasing neonic-free plants and seeds are at the co-ops, Mother Earth Gardens and Bachman’s. Pretty much assume that all commercial seeds and starter plants are treated with neonicotinoids unless labeled as organic.
2. Avoid spraying your garden with chemicals.
Can you get by without spraying? Did you know that the EPA has approved over 80,000 chemicals since the mid-’70s? And that it’s up to the chemical companies to determine whether chemicals are safe? And that few, if any, chemicals have been tested in combination with other chemicals to determine safety? We are overexposed to chemicals — and so are the bees. Toxicity in the body (human or bee) leads to compromised immune systems.
3. Plant plants that pollinators love.
And make sure they are neonicotinoid free. I’ve observed that bees go wild for Mexican torchlight, Culver’s root, hyssop, Korean Angelica and borage. They also love squash blossoms. More: Wild roses. Raspberries. Dandelions!
4. If you have bee-phobia, please work through it.
Some people freak out whenever they see any bee or insect that buzzes. They fear getting stung. If this describes you, I want you to know that when bees are in the garden working the blooms, it’s as if they are at the grocery store shopping. They don’t want a fight. They want to make their food selections and return home. Enjoy their peacefulness. Love the buzz.
5. For more information, check out the U’s bee lab website, http://beelab.umn.edu/.
And so … I’m going to try again with the bees this year. My new queen and about 5,000 of her daughters will arrive on Friday. Their numbers should peak at about 50,000 in August. They will travel up to 5 miles foraging for nectar and pollen. Who knows? They might visit your gardens.
I hope that my bees — and all the bees in Minnesota — thrive this summer and then survive next winter. With your help, there’s a greater chance they will. Together, we can create a healthier environment for humans and pollinators. If not us, who?
Nadja Reubenova is a small-business owner and arts coach in Minneapolis.