Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh, now, come on. Life in a time of cholera.

"Their extinction would mean not only a colorless, meatless diet of cereals and rice, and cottonless clothes, but a landscape without orchards, allotments and meadows of wildflowers – and the collapse of the food chain that sustains wild birds and animals."

I am not saying it would not be a disaster, or that our Way Of Life would not collapse; it very well might. But the More-First Americans managed a decent life without honeybees before the Europeans brought them.

This article from last year quoted above, is also interesting in a whole other weird way.
"Bee farmers in Scotland have reported losses on the American scale for the past three years. Andrew Scarlett, a Perthshire-based bee farmer and honey packer, lost 80% of his 1,200 hives this winter. But he attributed the massive decline to a virulent bacterial infection that quickly spread because of a lack of bee inspectors, coupled with sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores."

Blaming the bacterial epidemic on the government for not having enough bee inspectors? It's like blaming the AMA for deaths from flu. Except, as far as I know, we have not been misbreeding humans for a hundred years. (Maybe we have. Though it would be for longer than that. I still like plumbing and sanitary sewage.) And they never had a lousy summer before?

Look at that, I'm strident. I have been reading and listening to podcasts so much that I am concerned I will attribute ideas to the wrong people or get the problems wrong. Please do not flame me or anyone else as a result of what you read here.

Bee school has completed its four sessions and Deb and I went to the local meeting last week to hear a presentation from Michael Palmer of Vermont. They do not have CCD as such reported there. He points out that in VT they are not picking up hives in the winter, driving them thousands of miles to pollinate crops or orchards, and then expecting them to prosper. He makes his living with bees, has been since before the tracheal mite arrived in the 80's -- back when, he says, beekeeping was fun and easy. He says he doesn't care if you medicate or not, you have losses from varroa and you have losses generally and there is no silver bullet. He routinely breeds nucs to build up his colonies with locally adapted bees at a much lower cost -- economic and ecological-- than buying them in from the south. He regards buying packages -- a standard way to get bees, consisting of A queen and SOME workers who are not necessarily related, and may not accept her when they have a hive to live in -- as a great way to support the sellers of packages. You get a non-colony of older workers and a queen, who may or may not work out and increase together, who don't make a strong hive, who die off; and then, of course, you send for another package.

I think I need to say where I stand, but, first, I have to talk about 'standing.'

Beekeepers have more politics than prehistoric-American archaeologists.

And the stakes are not small at all: livelihoods and Life As We Know It. LAWKI is already under some threats, which makes everyone touchier; livelihoods, too. to talk rationally, as some legislative bodies seem to have given up upon, you have to take a deep breath and not start stinging everything in sight. One of the things I was able to ask Mr. Palmer (who seemed middle of the road sane, not pesticide-happy) concerned the relative sanity of one of the mailing lists I read. As I suspected, they are kinda out-there and willing, eager, to die for a hypothesis that has been disproven four or five times. Of course, you can argue that the universities who did the studies are on the take (as indeed they probably are. Monsanto must die), and then in their case you can add that to your apocalyptic (as quite strictly defined) worldview and put up more barbed wire. Palmer added that a much more apparently sane list deleted him every time he said 'hell' as in 'scared hell out of him when he was a kid,' and others just deleted his letters when he said something they did not agree with about, say, hive bodies. You cannot have increase of knowledge where the censorship is that doctrinaire.

Thank God this kind of censorship does not flourish in other parts of the Internet.


Anyway, I am trying not to become part of the problem, which is why I was worried about becoming strident (above).

One of my friends got exercised because people were discussing management for different kinds of wildlife. Why MANAGE? she said, why not just have nature? That sounds nice and Rousseauian, but people are so much a part of the ecology, of 'the balance of nature,' for good or for ill, that there is no 'non-management.' Even to be 'hands-off' is to vote for a particular result.

I am going to go chemical-free, because I think we have no choice. When the country was full of happily feral bees, we could valorize some for their familiarity to us, or some particular good quality, even if it was not in the larger sense a survival characteristic (to name but one: calm gentle bees are all very well, but they NEED to respond fast and hard against tall dark strangers -- there are a lot of bears here). Mites, diseases and habitat loss have killed off most of the feral bee colonies in New England. Apparently calls from frightened villagers to beekeepers about swarms are way, way down, which may go to explain why I had never seen a 'bee tree' until last year (in Jefferson, NH). Any bees is good bees. I would rather not have the angry Africanized ones become the default bee, but that would be far better than the Beeless Spring at the beginning of this post. I would like to have honey. I would like to have enough honey to sell, sometime, and I would like to have prosperous hives who make it through the winter. But using the chemicals doesn't seem to raise my odds, and it's expensive, and it goes against the rest of the way I garden (I use Roundup on Poison Ivy and Oriental Bittersweet. I continue to wonder if it is _possible_ to live in Texas or Florida or any tropics without insecticides; I hope so, but the fire ants really put me off. The rasberry (sic) crazy ants even more so. And I think that there are cases (bedbugs and mosquito netting in malarial areas) for a very limited use of DDT. Though it is probably not good for people even in small doses. So I am not ideologically pure).

Michael Palmer, whose lifework is bees, says he is tired of people importing packages of sickly bees from out of region whose drones get a chance to fertilize his queens. Ben Chadwick, the NH State Beekeeper, wants the traffic in bumblebees to be regulated, because people are bringing in new _bumblebee_ strains and diseases that are killing the native bumblebees (which, as well as being here before the European bees took up their slack, are the major pollinators of all kinds of native plants and tomatoes, which are New World but exotic to NH). I think each region needs to guard and develop its own strains of bees. But sometimes I read about these matters and just see another way we are all so very, very screwed.

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