Edible Berkshires

Hive Talkin’

Help honeybees, help us

Photo courtesy of Mars Vilaubi, photo editor, Story Publishing

Ask anyone who visits—Berkshire County is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. With rolling hills, unmatchable foliage, flowers of all shapes and sizes and deliciously homegrown and raised foods, we can surely appreciate all that this area has to offer.

But many of us are unaware of a critical element that produces much of the beauty of this land. That small, yet incredibly important, ingredient is honeybees.

Bees are an essential part of our ecosystems. They play a vital role in pollinating plants that bear many of the fruits and vegetables that we consume on a daily basis, such as apples, cucumbers, onions and pumpkins, to name just a few. And as insect foragers, they not only help keep our ecosystem running properly, but also produce delectable honey and beeswax that offer many benefits from health to beauty.

Without bees pollinating plants, farm stands would become sparse and the landscapes around us bare. And as the demand for locally grown produce increases, the smaller amount available would be much more expensive. Even more alarming is that if we continue to treat the plants and ecosystem around us with disrespect, we may see this future sooner than many anticipate.

Since 2006 beekeepers locally, nationally and internationally have witnessed a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) —the sudden disappearance of entire bee colonies from their hives. Until recently, there has been only speculation about what is causing this condition.

Researchers do know, however, that the more cases of CCD observed, the greater the decline in bee pollination, which can result in vast changes in our ecosystem.

Recently, progress has been made in understanding the cause of the condition. A 2013 Harvard University study found a link between CCD and a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids.

The research shows that as bees ingest the chemicals as they forage, their ability to return to their hives becomes blurred, causing an increase in death and extinction of entire colonies. The reports also indicate that bees exposed to the chemicals produced a smaller amount of queens in each colony. The queen, which lays the eggs that produce new bees, is a crucial part of continual bee colonization. Without them, entire colonies would die off.

Research is ongoing into the direct connection between these chemicals and CCD, but what has been shown is that these chemicals can have a negative impact on healthy bee production. An October 2013 study by Italian researchers demonstrated that neonicotinoids disrupt the innate immune systems of bees, making them susceptible to viral infections to which the bees are normally resistant.

Hive, Hosta Hill Provisions, Housatonic

I recently spoke with Tony Pisano, local beekeeper and author of Build Your Own Beekeeping Equipment, who said that although his colonies in North Adams haven’t been affected, he has seen instances of CCD in Berkshire County. Thankfully, many hives continue to be unaffected, but there are still actions that we as visitors and citizens of Berkshire County can take to continually promote healthy bee populations in our area.

To begin, Tony suggests that keeping a backyard bee colony is extremely useful for our ecosystem. Keeping bees can make us more aware of the environment as a whole. When you keep honeybees, you support other native pollinators that also play an integral role in our ecosystem. In addition, you are more likely to think twice before spraying chemicals on your plants as it can be dangerous not only for your colony, but also for other wildlife and the environment around you.

If you think you might like to keep bees but are unsure about where to begin, there are local organizations such as the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association that meets every month to discuss all things bees. Your questions and concerns are sure to be answered at a meeting.

And if you decide that keeping bees isn’t necessarily for you, there are still ways you can promote healthy bee production:

  • Stop using chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, and your lawn and the native pollinators will thank you.
  • Allow bee-friendly native plants such as dandelions, pussy willows, goldenrod, tansy and milkweed to grow in and around your property. The plants will help strengthen the ecosystem with little work on your part.
  • Knowledge is power. Stop and talk with a local beekeeper, many are present at your weekly, local farmer’s markets. See what challenges he or she faces and ask how you can help.

As we strive to shop and eat locally, we must also think about our local ecosystem and the impact that we have on it every day. Our actions directly affect all that is around us. To maintain the beauty and bounty of our environment, we must also support those creatures, big and small, that help make this place so wonderful.

For more information about how to set up your own backyard bee colony, pick up a copy of Tony Pisano’s book Build Your Own Beekeeping Equipment. And for more information about the Northern Berkshire Beekeeper’s Association, visit NBBA.Wordpress.com and attend an association meeting. The club meets monthly, with details about time and place listed on the site.

Matt LaBombard, is associate publicist and social media coordinator at Storey Publishing in North Adams. Matt is a Berkshire County native and enjoys writing about his time spent cooking and entertaining for his friends and family.


MotherJones.com/tom-philpott/2014/05/smoking-gun-bee-collapse — (includes link to “new Harvard study”)