Be Aware – Bees are Swarming

Much in the news about bees as pollinators. And while we all enjoy the fruits of bees labor, not many of us want a swarm of them settling in the backyard.    Especially not the Africanized “killer” bees that are a fact of life in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California.    Read on to learn how to stay safe.

Honey Bees are Non-native Bees

Even if you never eat honey, you still enjoy how hard bees work.    Bees pollinate an amazing number of crops that we use.    Food for us (almonds, apples, berries, buckwheat, cantaloupe, and through the alphabet to zucchini), forage for our livestock (alfalfa, clover, vetch, etc.), even oil seed crops like canola and sunflower.   The USDA says that about one third of our daily diet relies on honeybees.

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A honeybee pollinating avocado flowers. No bees no avocados!

Honey bees are not native to North America.    They were brought to eastern North America from Europe sometime in the 1630’s.    They escaped soon after and spread westward faster than their sponsors.    Decades later, when Europeans wandered through the Cumberland Gap, escaped honey bees had already colonized the area.

Deadly News

In 1987, a deadly pest was discovered in over 8000 hives in Florida.    If you said “killer bees” you’re wrong.    Bee inspectors found the dreaded bloodsucking varroa mite.    In Europe these mites had scythed through the hives and virtually eliminated honey production.    As if varroa mites aren’t bad enough there’s also tracheal mites that get into bees lungs and render them incapable of flying.    The infected hives in Florida were destroyed, but it was already too late, the varroa mites had spread across state lines.

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An Experiment Goes Awry

“Killer” bees were an experiment in Brazil that got away from the scientists.    The aggressive bees, originally from Africa, are resistant to varroa mites.    The plan was to carefully cross the militant African bees with placid European bees and help save the hives.

These Africanized bees will defend their hives to a greater distance and much more aggressively than European honey bees.    Because some people (and animals like horses and dogs) are highly allergic to bee venom, they result of many stings may be death, thus earning the Africanized bees the title “killer” bees.    Let’s try not to be too scared of the world though – think of them as aggressive Africanized bees.

Bees are Not Surviving

Meanwhile honeybees are still disappearing.    Intense scientific research into the problem has led to the conclusion that there are many factors, not just varroa mites.

1. One culprit is pesticides on agricultural crops (EPA article on the topic).

2. But even the flowers you buy at a nursery may be a problem.  Despite pledges from a decade ago – just this week I saw big box store nursery plant labels warning about neonicotinoids.  These neonicotinoids – when brought into a hive by a few bees can kill the entire colony.  They are positively associated with declines in bee populations.

Image courtesy naturalsociety.com This image is linked to their site.

3. GMO’s.  A clear problem is genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in crops (Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 2008. 70(2):327-33).  (sorry – no link.  Used up my free reads for the month)

4. Air pollution makes it harder for bees to navigate and they get lost and die.

All these factors point to one more reason to support organic farmers that grow in a more earth-friendly fashion.  And – why we should all grow some of our own food in our own yards.

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How bees get a drink in my yard. Terra cotta plant saucer filled with water. Add a large decorative rock to stand on and not drown.

Speaking of our yards, even with Africanized bees in the area, bee specialists tell us there is no need to panic if you see bees visiting your yard.    Foraging bees are looking for food or water and should be left alone.    They may have flown up to three miles to get to your yard for a drink, especially here in the arid Southwest.

Foragers Versus Swarms

Swarms of bees are different than a few dozen foraging bees.    Several thousand strong, they represent the mating flight of a queen and her court of drones and workers.    Let them fly on by, and keep children and pets indoors.    If you see a swarm settling into a tree, or the eaves or walls of your house, call a removal specialist.    Do not try to deal with them yourself! This really is a job for experts.

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This image is linked to more about swarm removal, including a list of removals in every state.

On my sister site – Savor the Southwest (.net) there is a list of bee removal specialists – in the “Resources” section.    There are numerous options to help you remove bee swarms safely including links to folks in southern Arizona, every state in the Union – so feel free to share it widely.

Bee Safe Out There!

Chances are good that the bees in your yard are (relatively) harmless.    You may see them on flowers, beside the pool, or on the hummingbird feeder.    Next time you see some bees, try this: mentally thank them for all the hard work their kin folk do to help put food on your table.    Life wouldn’t be the same without them.

Cover image: bee pollinating citrus flowers.

If you have a Fruit or Vegetable Garden the Bees Can Help!

And so can my book!  The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.

Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!

Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.

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