September 7, 2011

By now you would have to have been living in a cave for the last several years if you have not heard about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and how it threatens our domestic bee population.  It occurs when worker bees in a hive or colony abruptly disappear, never to return.  Whether this is due to them somehow abandoning the hive, or if it is due to illness or death is not known yet.  Intensive studies are under way in the U.S. and probably other countries as well, to try and identify the source of CCD and if there is a way to stop it from destroying bee colonies.  A number of theories have been put forth as to its cause, such as pesticides (my money is on this one), modern practices of transporting bees  hundreds of miles to pollinate huge orchards (increased stress on the colony), larger hives than the bees normally make for themselves, or natural causes such as bacterial infections, insect infestations, etc.  The increased use of GMO crops may also be a contributing factor.    

Hopefully, scientists will be able to get to the bottom of CCD before it is too late.  We’ve all seen that famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein:  “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”  Whether or not Einstein really said this (doubtful), it really isn’t far from the truth.

I’m certain there is a wild honeybee hive not far from our property, because there has always been a healthy bee population visiting the flowers in our garden.  Since becoming aware of the myriad things threatening honeybees today (homeowner pesticide use, wild land turned into asphalt and subdivisions to name just two), I’ve made a real effort to provide year-round food sources for the bees in my neighborhood.  Bringing the bees to our property benefits us as well – the bees are just as happy to forage among my tomato plant and zucchini flowers as they are the sunflowers I plant for them.  In fact, I’ve taken to including flowers they like in my vegetable beds as a draw for them to visit.

Planning for year-round food sources for bees is not hard to do, and I would like to suggest that as landscape designers, we make an effort to include bees’ favorite plants in the gardens we design.  Homeowners doing it themselves can do so as well.  There are quite a few websites out there that provide tips and suggestions for homeowners who aren’t sure what plants to use.

Bee-friendly gardens can include all sorts of plants, from rosemary bushes to salvia to giant sunflowers.  We have an herb garden not far from our    kitchen door, and it includes both rosemary and a large plot of oregano.  When the oregano blooms, the bees are thrilled:  you can watch them happily crawling from one tiny white flower to another, completely absorbed in their pollen collecting.  In fall, tall clusters of lavender aster flowers have their full attention.  Also investigate the use of some native plants in your plans, and a variety of colors and shapes of flowers.  Pollinators such as bees and other insects seem to prefer plants in clumps, making it easy for them to move from flower to flower.  Bees also appreciate a little water source, such as a shallow bird bath or shallow bowl placed on the ground.

Homeowners need not worry about the possibility of bee stings if they plant bee-friendly flowers – the bees are far too busy planning for winter than looking for trouble.  I’m deathly allergic to them myself, but I have yet to be stung here on our property, even with bees right outside my front door.  Another thing to consider is that honeybees are only one type of bee that will visit and pollinate the flowers of fruit trees, nut trees and our vegetable plants.  There is actually quite a variety of bees who undertake this work on our behalf, including bumblebees and mason bees.

But just as important as it is to include food source plants for bees in your planting plans, is convincing the homeowner to avoid the use of pesticides.  Pesticides are not selective, and will kill all insects, not just the pests.

So go on, give honeybees a helping hand, because in the long run you may just be helping the entire human population as well.

Want to learn more about CCD and the research being done?  U.C. Davis in California is a good place to start – visit their website at www.entomology.ucdavisedu/dept/beebio/cfm.

For information on organic beekeeping visit

If you’d like to know more about starting your own bee colony visit My Garden School at

Happy Gardening!


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