God Save the Queen
by Matthew Fure, Assistant Wellness Manager
I guess the title of this article would more appropriately read “God Save the Workers” as the queen was pretty much all that was left in hives affected by colony collapse disorder (CCD) this spring. Mainstream media was all over the topic, reporting staggering statistics and the possibility of huge losses to America’s food supply. They reported many possible causes for the huge die offs such as parasites, bacteria and viruses. Of course, the chemicals used to treat and prevent such contaminations were suspect too. Then there is the fact that worker bees spend their days flying around collecting pollen and possibly pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. We also can’t forget that they may be collecting this pollen from genetically modified plants. It starts to appear that the odds are against the honeybee. Since none of these threats are new, why is CCD suddenly affecting our bees? Why haven’t we just seen a gradual die-off?
Technically there has been a gradual decrease in the honeybee population for quite some time. The varroa mite has been the number one problem of the honeybee in the United States for almost twenty years. It also appears that it may be one of the main causes of CCD, but not as directly as you would think. When the mite hit the U.S., wild honeybee populations were nearly wiped out in areas. This meant large commercial farms didn’t have enough bees to pollinate their crops. Some industrious bee farmers decided that since there was so much demand and so little supply of the bees’ pollinating services in some areas, they would just start shipping their colonies around to the crops in need. This is what led to the growth of large-scale beekeeping and the practice of shipping bee colonies around the country to pollinate different crops.
It is the large-scale conventional beekeepers and those that ship their colonies around who are reporting the majority of CCD cases. The average honeybee will fly about two miles from its hive collecting pollen. This means the hive is only exposed to the contaminations in a two-mile radius. If you ship the colony to several locations around the country, the risk of contamination greatly increases. In the wild, bee colonies are more spread out which helps keep diseases from spreading to all the colonies in the area. The large-scale conventional farms pack several colonies together increasing the chances of an infected colony spreading disease.
To help keep diseases from taking over, the bees are treated with antibiotics and other such chemicals that can actually make the problem worse in the long run. The large-scale conventional farms also feed the bees sugar syrups such as corn syrup instead of letting them use and store their own food sources. All of these factors, along with the environmental variables such as droughts and unusually cold or warm spells, seem to add up to colony collapse disorder. So, it may have been mites that set this all into motion almost twenty years ago but it’s more likely humans that really caused it.
The good news, and often over-looked topic in the mainstream media, is that organic and small-scale bee farms are reporting almost no unusual losses. This seems to reinforce the theory that CCD is caused by the bees being poorly cared for and stressed.
I contacted Y.S. Organic Bee Farms, the supplier for most of our medicinal bee products. They are seeing no unusual losses and haven’t been affected by CCD at all. Not all of their products are certified organic, but they do care for all the bees in the same way. They don’t give the bees antibiotics and never ship the bees around for pollinating services. They also don’t harvest from the bees if they don’t produce excess. This means the bees are able to consume the food they collect instead of being fed sugar syrups. This is quite possibly the main reason the bees are so much healthier than those of the large-scale commercial bee farms. Humans have been consuming the very things bees collect, make, and eat for years to boost their immune systems and improve overall health.
Honey is one of the most common bee products and the one we are all familiar with. Honey is made from the nectar of the flowers. The bees store it as a food source for when other food is scarce. The other thing the bees collect from the flowers is pollen. Worker bees mix the pollen with honey and pack it into their pouches. This is the bees’ other main food source. Bee pollen is packed full of vitamins and other nutrients. It is considered by some to be a perfect food, and many people report having more energy when taking it. It is also believed that bee pollen helps boost the immune system and could help prevent allergies because of its natural occurring antihistamines such as quercetin.
Another supplement we get from bees is royal jelly. Royal jelly is secreted by a special group of nurse bees during the sixth and twelfth days of life. Royal jelly is given to all larvae when they hatch, but only those destined to be queen are given an unlimited lifetime supply. The other larvae are given small amounts and soon switched to plain honey and pollen. It appears that the only difference between the small, short-lived worker and the large long-lived queen is nutrition. This is what first attracted people to this fascinating substance. It is believed to be a nutrition powerhouse, along with having antibacterial and antibiotic properties.
Finally there is propolis, which is the cement used to hold the hive together. It is collected from the leaf buds and bark of certain trees. This is the substance that is believed to make beehives such a sterile environment. People have been taking it for its immune-boosting properties for many years. So you see, the bees have several natural defenses to sickness and disease, and we too may benefit from taking these substances.
Badger SPF 30 Sunscreen was rated as one of the best (meaning safe and effective) by the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) in mid-June of this year. We have carried this product since it was introduced last year. Because of all the media attention focused on sunscreens lately, the W.S. Badger company was overwhelmed with orders and was “out of stock” for several weeks. But by the time you read this we will have plenty on hand to last the rest of the season. And we’ll be sure to keep some on hand year round for skiing and other vacation seasons.