by Francisco G. Gómez
Will Hunting once said, “…you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!” Words of wisdom, in deed. Of course there aren’t many geniuses like Will in the world today, but here in America, before the advent of modern math and whole language immersion, most of us learned how to add, subtract, divide and multiply, as well as read rather well. Add to this the truth that people watch unbelievable amounts of television in the course of one day, and the only exercise they get is through some control device or at a computer keyboard; then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished with a little imagination, money and interest.
So where you going with this, man? This is the information age, isn’t it? There is an incredible amount of information out there, especially on the Net. Why pay for something you can learn absolutely free of charge; accompany this by a small investment of money and some trial and error and you might be surprised by what you come up with.
By now you’re asking whether mechanical aptitude is necessary to succeed when making something with your hands and power tools, but I didn’t mention the power tools, did I! Perhaps the ladies are thinking, that’s man stuff, hopefully not; then again, what can a man do that a woman can’t? OK, however, I’m not talking human biology here; I’m suggesting that we all have the capacity to help a severely endangered species of creature that is key to the survival of the human race. Perhaps, that may not be such a good thing given that we homo sapiens have a warped sense of self preservation; and this without regard for other animals that we share space with on this tiny planet in the universe.
At this point you must be saying “I’m reading this because I thought this would help me learn to construct a bee hive, but I didn’t click on the link to eyeball some interpretive philosophy about how humans are murdering honey bees.” You’re thinking “dude, those are some strong words!” The truth is that they are strong words for a strong reality.
Here are just three facts most humans don’t know about bees. It might be a bit complex, but don’t sweat the little stuff. Consider, if you will, how we may be negatively impacting on the bees’ abilities to perform these amazing tasks and disrupting their homeostasis:
1. Bee Navigation – Honeybee foragers have to provide a constant flow of nectar, pollen, water and propolis to the colony. The navigational information necessary for their frequent long distance flights is acquired from celestial and terrestrial cues. In order to keep track of the current position relative to the goal, forager bees employ several strategies. When first leaving the hive, young foragers perform systematic flight maneuvers, backing away from the hive in a series of increasing arcs. During those orientation flights, the animals memorize
the hive itself, local landmarks surrounding the hive and global landmarks around the area. When flying between nest and food source, the bee can then match the memorized cues with the actual visual environment. The flight distance is estimated by optic flow experienced by the bee on the outbound route. When forced to fly in a non-beeline, i.e. around large obstacles like mountains, honeybees employ a dead reckoning system which constantly updates the distance and direction to the hive. Thus, in the waggle dance, the dancer communicates the straight line and distance to the resource, rather than the absolute distance flown around the obstacle. Using direct light from the sun and polarized skylight detected by specialized ommatidia in the eye’s dorsal rim area, the honeybee’s celestial compass is able to measure angular movement relative to a reference direction, the solar meridian. As a compass-backup for cloudy days, the skyline panorama is memorized together with the solar ephemeris function. En route to a goal, familiar landmarks can break down a trip into several segments to improve accuracy, and panoramic cues allow the recognition of landmark cues that, in turn, trigger local vectors. These systems are flexibly applied to the task at hand. Chittka and colleagues have shown that when foraging by familiar landmarks, honeybees are able to suppress their path integration system, even when those landmarks are displaced. Alternatively, when forced to forage in a novel location without learned landmarks, they use path integration without landmarks to navigate back to the hive.1
The excerpt on bee navigation sounds rather complicated, doesn’t it? It is, and could it be that humans’ selfish ways of impacting their natural surroundings negatively are impairing the bees’ intricate ways of getting around and back to the hive?
In an article I wrote last February, http://www.raicesculturalcenter.org/blog/raices-starts-apiculture-initiative/ I expressed concern about two residents in my neighborhood that began keeping bees only to find that they disappeared very quickly and abruptly. Of course there are many reasons why this may have happened, but I couldn’t help reflecting on how often this is occurring as of late across the globe.
Bees have been around far longer than humans, around 100 million years. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/6084974.stm This alone would indicate, with certainty, that they have evolved in very complex and intricate ways and have negotiated their environments successfully until the age of industrial man. Why then are they disappearing on an unprecedented level? I’ll let you be the judge of that!
2. Colony Collapse Disorder – Scientists have been trying to discover why millions of beehives have collapsed and died during the past six years. The reason for the phenomenon – known as Colony Collapse Disorder – according to a new study, may be much more complex and disconcerting. Dozens of different types of chemicals may be combining to wreak havoc on the pollen that the bees collect for their hives. C.C.D. has killed off more than 10 million beehives in North America since 2007 alone. Scientists have tried repeatedly to identify the root cause for the beehive collapses, ranging from certain classes of pesticides to parasites or nutrition.
So academic researchers from the University of Maryland and federal scientists from the Department of Agriculture decided to collect pollen from seven major types of crops along the East Coast where C.C.D. has been especially destructive – where bees had been in serious decline – and fed them to healthy bees. The pollen fed to the healthy bees contained an average of nine different types of pesticides and fungicides. One pollen sample had 21 different chemicals. The researchers discovered that the healthy bees that ate the fungicides – which are supposedly harmless to bees – were actually three times more likely to become infected with a parasite that’s known to cause Colony Collapse Disorder, according to the study in PLOS One, an open access journal. What the study also indicated is that there may not be a single cause of the collapse of bee colonies in North America – it could be a complex web of many chemicals that involves different types and classes of pesticides and fungicides.
Fungicides are used to control things like fungus on apples, and weren’t expected to have an impact on healthy bees. But according to the study, healthy bees that ate such fungicides were much more likely to become infected with a deadly parasite. So U.S.D.A. may need to change the way it regulates the use of such fungicides around these crops and the bee colonies that pollinate them, and change the way it advises farmers and beekeepers about the use of such fungicides. Likewise, if C.C.D. is linked to the complex array of chemicals in pollen, it will make it vastly more difficult to protect bee colonies – not to mention the implications for other forms of life subjected to this complex set of chemicals that make their way into the food web or environment.2
3. Honey Bee, Major World Pollinator – Over one-third of our food supply relies upon them for pollination services and we know that pollination is essential for the reproduction of plants the bees service.
The honey bee is a major pollinator of many of our food crops, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops all rely on honey bees for pollination.So if honey bees disappear and we do not find replacements that can do the work they do, then foods that we take for granted will decrease in supply and increase in price.
The pollination service provided by insect pollinators, bees mainly, was €153 billion (euros) in 2005 for the main crops that feed the world. This figure amounted to 9.5% of the total value of the world agricultural food production. The main reason that the honeybees are important for our world is as simple as this; if the honey bee does not pollinate the crops, the crops do not grow and produce the food that gets harvested and brought to the store where we buy it and bring it home to feed ourselves and our families. In other words, there is a direct connection between the bees pollinating the crops and our ability to provide food for our families. One of the things about honeybees is the fact that they are important. Important at the human scale – not just important to beekeepers, but important to the quality of life enjoyed by beneficiaries of developed economies the world over. This importance does not hang on honey production, but pollination – nothing less than our food supply.
Is it true that human life depends on bee pollination? Or, more precisely, to what extent does the quality of human life depend on bee pollination? These are legitimate questions, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to promulgate answers based on good biology and economics.
Organization (F.A.O.) from 1961 to 2006 reached some divergent conclusions and shed light on the interacting complexity of the question “How important is animal-vectored pollination?” The authors of the F.A.O. analysis concluded that the proportion of global food production attributable to animal pollination ranges from 5% in industrialized nations to 8% in the developing world. About 75% of the world’s crops benefit to some degree from animal pollination; only 10% of that 75% depend fully on animal pollination. A second explanation is that pollinator-dependent crops tend to have lower average production levels than non-pollinated crops. But there is another mega-trend at work, and that is that global demand for animal-pollinated crops is increasing faster than the demand for non-pollinated staples. The fraction of total production made up of animal-pollinated crops grew from 3.6% in 1961 to 6.1% in 2006, and even these statistics mask a huge jump in the years since 1990. In other words, more people around Planet Earth want ice cream, blueberry tarts, watermelon, almond chocolate bars, coffee, and yes McDonald’s hamburgers – and the trend shows no sign of slowing. So, to what extent does the quality of human life depend on bee pollination? I would say a lot.
We are losing the bees that live naturally in the wild. We depend on these insects for our food, but in an ecosystem where pollution and urbanization are altering nature dramatically, bees are in major trouble.3
These three facts may have you considering if you would even want to get into keeping bees, much less building your own hives. I know it kept me from doing so for at least a year and a half. But, let me tell you that the easiest part has been constructing my own hives, and the most difficult endeavor has been in studying and attempting to understand these amazing little creatures.
The very first step to take when considering bee-keeping is to learn as much as you can about them, and more so, about the detrimental effects humans are having upon Nature’s most perfect creation. Meanwhile, make sure to visit the resources I have listed in this article and view the You Tube videos I have linked.
And, yes, I know; I didn’t actually get into how to build the bee hive. You’ll have to come back and read an upcoming piece I’ll be writing on this topic, or you can learn how to do so, very easily, by following the video of your choice on You Tube. That’s what I did and I’m no Will Hunting by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that easy, folks!
4. Complete Langstroth Bee Hive Construction by Ryan Bekke http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMvCuYuWVeQ&list=PLftIoH83vraHPoaFvGKs5V4Ax9GzbkAfn