Today I had to destroy my hives.
New beekeepers might find this surprising, that bees can die mysteriously. But it’s becoming a common problem for beeks.
About two weeks ago, I noticed that no bees were coming and going from my two hives. I watched them, and knew they were dead. It wasn’t a total surprise. Last summer, I had die-offs in both hives, so I didn’t rob the honey, hoping the colonies would bounce back. It was my hope that by leaving the honey, then they could survive the winter. They didn’t.
So, today, I opened up the hives — a chore I had been putting off.
What I found was at first surprising. Each of the hives held about 65 pounds of honey. So, they didn’t starve (as I figured they wouldn’t if I didn’t harvest the honey this year). But there were no dead bees in the first hive. Just honey.
That’s a classic symptom of colony collapse disorder (CCD): lots of honey, no bees.
In the second hive, there was the same but with a difference. There was honey, but at the bottom of the hive were hundreds of dead bees. But, in addition, there were dozens of cockroaches, but also dead.
Whatever killed the bees killed the cockroaches that ate them.
I moved to town one year ago. While I had had ups and downs with the bees over the years when I lived out in the country, good years and not-so-good years, the bees adjusted to the various conditions. I requeened when I had to, captured swarms, and so forth, to keep them going. They survived drought and heavy rains, vicious cold spells and warm seasons. Adjusting.
But the moment I moved to town I had problems. The bees just couldn’t adjust.
I don’t think it’s just living in town, as urban beekeeping has become a national phenomenon. Hundreds of beekeepers live in New York City, for example; even swanky hotels have bee hives on their top floors. They are thriving.
But behind my house, a few subdivisions away and within the two-mile range of my bees, are literally miles of GMO corn. You can drive for 30 minutes and see nothing but corn fields interspersed with cotton fields.
Today, the harsh chemicals that once characterized cotton farming have become highly regulated with EPA rules that require quick breakdown of toxic chemicals. But the controversy rages over GMO corn and a host of pesticides for corn called neonicotinoids.
As Xerces has reported, neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticides that share a common mode of action that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death.
According to Xerces:
— Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees. Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
— Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
— Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
For more, see: http://www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees/
Neonicotinoids are found in many garden products, and it’s possible that my bees died from that exposure here in town. But I suspect the corn, mainly because whenever herbicides and pesticides are sprayed on the miles and miles of fields outside of town, the odor permeates the area. It’s difficult to drive through or near those fields in the spring, fall and certain times in the summer.
According to various research reports, though the Big Ag seed producers and chemical companies vehemently reject the claim, it is believed that millions of bees die because of neonicotinoid pesticides. And the majority of GMO corn and soy are treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), 94 percent of U.S. corn seeds are treated with either imidacloprid or clothianidin (specific neonicotinoid poisons believed to kill bees) and as a result, honey bees are subjected to increasingly toxic load of neonicotinoids in corn fields.
Moreover, according to a Purdue University study released last year, the most damaging use of neonicotinoids is a type of coating applied to many genetically engineered (GMO) corn seeds to kill pests that the GMO Bt toxin (inserted genetically into the seed) cannot destroy.
While European countries have banned their use, neonicotinoids remain widely used in the United States, despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists have warned of the danger to the nation’s pollinators.
These nicotine-based neurotoxins impair the bees’ navigational ability and compromise their immune and nervous systems, causing paralysis and eventually death. It has been likened to a honeybee getting Alzheimer’s and forgetting how to return to the hive.
That would explain the first hive with its abundance of honey and missing bees.
But neonicotinoids use has an equally disastrous effect that research is showing (even research that the chemical scientists employed by industrial agriculture cannot explain away). And that is that even if a hive’s bees do not mysteriously disappear by the Alzheimer’s effect (CCD), the toxic load of neonicotinoids stresses hives to the extent that they die from other causes. Specifically, that can be either a disastrous increase in susceptibility to common diseases and parasites, or from other pesticides that might otherwise have sickened the bees but not killed them.
Nor do bees have to go to the corn to be poisoned. Pesticide-laden dust particles are carried for miles. And because the pesticides are systemic, they are absorbed by other plants, such as dandelions, that bees can be exposed to while gathering pollen and bringing it back to the hive.
The poison also is absorbed by soil and, hence, is found in plants that grow in that soil — as well as in our streams and rivers.
One might say, ah, but there’s no proof here that GMO killed the bees. To a certain extent, yes, there is no proven direct link, as there is no proven direct link between neonicotinoids and bee deaths (though the evidence seems overwhelming).
The fact is that rather than reducing pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity because the most common forms of insect pests (not bees!) are developing immunity to those used in conjunction with GMOs. That means ever more amounts and ever more varieties of toxic chemicals being applied (including herbicides).
That also might be illustrated by the simultaneous effect in my second hive: CCD evidence with honey but no bees found, as well as hundreds of bees killed by an unknown cause that also resulted in the deaths of the cockroaches that ate some of the dead bees.
I am not a scientist. I’m just a backyard gardener, former organic farmer, and (now, regrettably, former) beekeeper. I can only present conclusions as to what might have happened to my bees based on observation, reading and my own firsthand experience.
I am also very sad.