Written by Stephen Trink
Almost five years ago, I was reading a newspaper article about the plight of honeybees and was inspired to do something about it. Perhaps you will recall the news headlines regarding Colony Collapse Disorder or “CCD” for short? Suspected causes for this phenomenon include varroa mites, malnutrition, loss of habitat and a new class of pesticide called neonicotinoids. After reading about this catastrophe, I was determined to read every book and watch every DVD I could get my hands on at our local library and spent endless hours searching the internet for information on how to keep bees. After six months of intense research, I finally purchased our equipment which included wooden hive boxes filled with frames, a protective suit, hive tool, gloves and a smoker. Finally, I painted the boxes glossy white, ordered our bees and registered as an official beekeeper with the Ministry of Agriculture (registration is free by the way). Nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful adventure that awaited us!
While my original motivation was to help these important pollinators, I quickly realized the sweet reward of raw wildflower honey which we were starting to harvest in great abundance by the second year! In addition to honey, I also collected the wax which we now make into homemade lip balm and candles. This has proven to be a richly rewarding hobby for our entire family and a lot of fun too! Last year, I purchased a child size suit which enabled our kids to join us during hive inspections.
I feel privileged to have this opportunity of being a beekeeper; I am constantly learning new things about bees and developing better strategies for managing my hives from other beekeepers at our local Grand River Beekeeper’s Association. It is richly fulfilling to know that I am doing my part to help these important pollinators. It was Albert Einstein who wisely stated that, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” This is the challenge we face right now and failure is not an option.
Pollination provides one of the clearest examples of how our disregard for the health of the environment threatens our own survival. About 75% of all crops require pollination, often by bees, but sometimes by flies, butterflies, birds or even bats.
In southwest China, they are forced to hand-pollinate their apple and pear orchards because their excessive use of pesticides has completely eradicated their entire wild bee population.
Farmers in these areas carry pots of pollen and paintbrushes to individually pollinate every flower! Obviously this is not a viable solution to the problem as there are not enough humans in the world to pollinate all of our crops by hand.
Another problem is the increasing lack of natural habitat for pollinators. Admittedly, the situation in China is one of the most dramatic cases in the world today but there is increasing evidence from around the globe pointing to unsustainable farming practices which are incompatible with the long term survival of our pollinators.
So, what can be done? Promising studies conducted in both Europe and North America have shown that planting strips of wildflowers on farms or leaving patches of natural vegetation such as forests, can greatly boost pollinator populations including honey bees! According to these studies, these practices increase populations of natural predators, which decreases the need for pesticide use.
In Ontario, our government can no longer ignore the increasing scientific evidence which clearly shows that neonicotinoid insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and other beneficial insects. Part of the problem is that these potent insecticides don’t break down quickly in soil. They are water soluble and easily run off into local water systems, where they can harm aquatic insects also. The province has promised to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 80% by the year 2017. This is a good start but is it too little, too late? Several years ago in Europe they implemented a five year ban on neonicotinoid insecticides after determining that they posed an “unacceptable” danger to bees.
In the United States alone, crop pollination by insects is estimated to be worth $14.6 billion to the economy. Some pollination is done by domesticated honeybees, like blueberries and almonds but the bulk of pollination of most crops is done by wild insects like bumblebees.
Without bees, our diets would be rather boring. How would you like to survive on wheat, barley and corn, and little else? Raspberries, apples, strawberries, peas, beans, melons, tomatoes, blueberries, pumpkins and many more all rely on pollination. Most importantly, imagine a world without honey!
Bees and other insects have provided free pollination for our crops for millennia. They will continue to do so if we learn to recognize their importance and return the favour by providing them with what they need to survive.
Stephen and his wife April have been beekeeping hobbyists for the past 5 years. They currently manage 12 hives located in Teeswater and St. Agatha. Stephen received his undergraduate bachelor’s degree in Science (BScN) from McMaster University in 2006. In his professional career, Stephen worked in an acute care setting at St. Mary’s General Hospital as a Registered Nurse for several years. For the past ten years, he has been working in a management role in long term care. He is a member of the Grand River Beekeepers’ Association and joined the Waterloo Region Nature Club earlier this year. April and Stephen are the proud parents of five beautiful children and live in Kitchener, Ontario. If you are interested in getting into beekeeping Stephen would be happy to answer any questions you might have and is willing to mentor new beekeepers! Please email him directly: email@example.com