Grace Chang Studio Architecture, Art and Design

Among Honeybees in Florida – 21 February 2010

Today, I debated between tagging along to Bill’s Beer Brewing Association meeting or driving around to take pictures of saw palmettos, wild mustard, maples, Brazilian pepper bushes, etc.  All the places the bees go to to forage for nectar.  Better yet, maybe take a leisurely drive through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge earlier rather than later in the day.

I decided to go to a brewers association meeting. I always love learning new things and this was no exception.  I got to taste some home brewed mead and beers, so that was good.  There was one really good mead with heather.  A rather hoppy beer took my interest too.  The tartness of the hops was backed up well with strong barley component, so it melded together well.  I met a few interesting people.  Quite a few of the brewers were engineers or chemists.

On the drive back to the house, Bill talked about the orange grove, a huge topic.  Bill mentioned the other day how he had not recently taken his bees to orange groves because the farmers had been spraying pesticides that grow into and remain within the trees.  Today he clarified that the young reset trees that bloom first and get sprayed or treated and the poisons stay within the trees (because younger and more rings to grow?)  If the bees get pollen and nectar from these young reset trees, they bring the poisoned pollen and nectar back to the hive.  High level pesticides (pyrethrins, etc.).  If they have other sources of food (like pollen patties, etc.), they will stay away from the poisoned pollen because they know something is wrong with it.  As mentioned earlier, at some point, though, the bees with have a dearth of pollen/food and have to pick from their worst “groceries,” the poisoned pollen. And then they crash.  It is like a time bomb waiting to happen.

If, however, the bees are released among the blooms of older orange trees they are less likely to get as much poisoned pollen and nectar.  Though the older orange trees are most likely treated with pyrethrin pesticides, the pesticide tends not to stay on the older trees after three days of spraying.  A completely different story if the bees are present during spraying.  It is technically illegal to spray while bees are on site but it does happen(who is going to enforce it?)  If bees gather nectar and pollen from the older orange trees, there is less poison in the pollen, so they do not crash as fast or as intensely.  It builds up.

Bill said he is on the fence about sending his bees to the orange farms.  I said if there is an inevitable crash awaiting (time bomb), then why send them over?  He replied that beekeepers could send the bees to, say, squash instead of orange trees, but who is to say that farmers do not also spray the squash?  I asked if there was not a way to find out.  Bill said it was important to keep up good relationships with the growers.  I said, well, is there a way to know which growers refrain from using pesticides?  Bill said, you do not want to rock the boat.  If you say you will not be sending your bees to the orange groves, farmers will be upset.

Bill said a couple years ago, he tried to pass into law mandatory testing of what pesticides did to bee larvae.  He knew it would not pass but he wanted to stir the “pot of crap.”  It got the attention of IFIS (International Food Information Service), etc.  Farmers were approaching Bill in the halls, saying, we can’t have this – we have to use pesticides.  Bill said, well, then vote it down.

The Florida Farm Bureau has a huge impact on voting people into office.  Bill likes and dislikes it, as with anything else.  He likes that it is a bottom-up organization.  Issues get pushed from farmers to the top, to government agencies and not vice versa.  It is grassroots in that sense.

The way I see it is – bottom line is that everyone is out for survival.  The farmers are using pesticides to save their crops.  The beekeepers are sending their bees to certain death in pesticide sprayed crops (time bomb) because they need to foster relations with farmers, who will give them jobs to pollinate their crops.  Bill said it is important to keep good relations with the ranches because so many of his hive are on ranch land.  He does not own any of the land his bees are on.  He leases the honey house land and some land for the bee hives.  A good deal of his hives are housed on ranch or farm land and it is by favor of the ranchmen or farmers that he can put his hives on their land.

It is these relationships that Bill cultivates with the ranchers and farmers that got him the contract with GS Honey in California.  He has the job of building the GS hives in addition to maintaining his own hives (back from California in twenty days, mid March).

At the systemic level, the mono crops screw up any sort of immunity from parasites, etc.   With smaller, multiple crops, you have, say, bugs on the oaks who are natural predators of parasites on orange trees.  If you only have orange groves, then there is no natural predators or parasites around and all the groves will be gone unless you use pesticides.

In my humble opinion, there is something awfully wrong when we, as consumers, are demanding oranges even if they contain a good dose of pesticides** (to the core, not just skin deep).  The consumer has the right to demand pesticide free food, smaller rotated crops, grow plants and support lands that are strong habitats for bees and other insects and animals, etc.  In regard to food, demand creates results in our economy.  Are we going to wait and let our bodies be time bombs as we absorb and process more pesticides?

In the very beginning of my research on honeybees, I was focused on how our survival, as humans, depends on their well being.  Their well being boosts our well being.  Their decline preindicates our decline.  As I start to observe and read more about the honeybee, I am increasingly impressed at the fascinating creature it is.

*Names in this account changed to protect participants from being drawn into the political battles revolving around agriculture in the U.S.

** For information on the dirty dozen and clean 15 (list below):
dirty dozen (most residue to least)

peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines
strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes
carrots, and pears

clean 15 (in order of least residue to most)
onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes
asparagus, sweet peas, kiwifruits, cabbages, eggplants
papayas, watermelons, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes
Grapefruit is number 16.
Oranges and tangerines, staples of midwinter
fall midway on the list of the 47 fruits and vegetables tested.

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