Bees and Climate Change

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A swarm of cold & hungry bees find refuge in our topbar hive: Photo by Nicole Herbert

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Sadananda and Michael installing bees: Photo by Nicole Herbert

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Ma and Akacia watch as Sadananda and Michael install bees: Photo by Nicole Herbert

For the last few years, we've been keeping bees at Alandi Ashram. The garden is fragrant with the scent of propolis and honey and abuzz with bees busily pollinating the garden. Yet keeping bees alive is becoming increasingly difficult.

We've all heard of neonicotinoid pesticides and how they precipitate colony collapse disorder in bees. Banned in the EU to save bees, this class of pesticides continues to be used in the US, where the Department of Agriculture has refused to ban it.

Today, I want to talk about another hazard that bees face. In our years of keeping bees, we've realized that bees are climate change victims, suffering even more than their keepers from extreme weather events.

Initially, we didn't have our own bees, but a neighbour placed a beehive in our garden to enjoy our flowers and help pollinate--with dramatic results in the garden's productivity. Then drought and forest fires began to plague the Boulder area. Watering restrictions made it hard to keep the garden in bloom. Our friendly beekeeper gave up keeping bees.

Next, we had our very own bees, with all the emotional upheavals that go with losing your pets. Beekeeping went quite well at first, but as CO2 levels have increased, so has extreme weather. Drought and forest fire made the local black bears hungry, short of berries for winter food. Some moved from the foothills into town. And so a neigbourhood black bear was one of the first unexpected hazards our bees faced. He, or she, broke down our fence in an attempt to get to the hive. We saw the bear's paw prints right in front of the hive. We'll never know whether a car entering the next-door parking lot spooked the bear, or whether the bees themselves fought him off.

Another extreme weather event that is becoming increasingly common is the polar vortex phenomenon. It's challenging to keep Italian honeybees warm when it's twenty below--and more so when this occurs unseasonably. The November 2014 polar vortex will have long-term effects on bee forage. Just yesterday our neighbour showed us two wild plum trees killed by that weather event. She said that many fruit trees around town were killed, lowering the amount of bee forage available in the crucial weeks of spring.

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2014 Polar Votex

Of course, our most extreme weather event was the 2013 Boulder Flood Disaster. I was so busy at the time taking care of flooded rooms and indoor mold that I did not realize that water had also entered the hives. The winter store of honeycomb moulded and we lost our bees yet again. In fact, Boulder County lost ninety percent of its bees as a result of the flood.

Fall of 2014 brought an amazing Indian summer. It was an enjoyable time in many ways, but disastrous for the bees. Instead of hunkering down in their own hives, local bees were out raiding other hives. All our three hives were raided and our bees slaughtered--a painful event because, as I've said, they are our pets.

Spring of 2015 rolled around, and our bee support person, Michael has brought us three swarms. But we have been having an exceptionally wet and cold spring, so there is little to no forage for the bees. Rainstorms keep knocking the pollen and nectar off the available flowers. And the newly installed swarms don't have any stores built up for rainy days. The swarm in the pictures had been out in the rain and cold for two days. In desperation, we've begun feeding our bees. And we've added the winter insulation to the exterior of the hives. The swarm that had been out in the rain was too exhausted even to make it to the feeder. Instead, we sprayed bee food on the bees, so they could lick each other clean and gain strength that way. We don't know if that colony will make it or not , but on the occasional sunny intervals we've seen some of them flying around.

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Feeding the bees, winter insulation in place in late May.

The environment is a system, a web of life. Extreme cold kills bees. Lack of berries means more bear predation. Shortage of forage makes for more bee raiding. Whatever affects the flowers affects the bees. Whatever affects the bees will in the end affect us, for we depend upon pollinators for food.

How can you help:

  • Don't use pesticides
  • Let your dandelions bloom, a crucial early food for bees and hummingbirds
  • Grow bee-friendly plants like members of the mint and borage families.
  • Let your bolted mustards and arugula bloom.
  • Grow some clover on your lawn and let it bloom.
  • Most of all--become a climate change activist!

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    This page contains a single entry by Alakananda Ma published on May 25, 2015 7:50 AM.

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