Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Bee Or Not To Bee: Interview, Part Two.

Here is part two of my interview with Mark Tanney, marketing and internet manager for Honey Girl Organics. Part One focused on honey bees and the crisis that they are facing, Colony Collapse Disorder. In Part Two below, we talk about the things we can do to help bring back our bees.

Remember to come back tomorrow to enter the second Do Something Good Challenge and Giveaway. You'll get a chance to do something great for the bees, and win some fantastic Honey Girl products too. 

Obligatory Disclaimer Redux: The views expressed in this interview are those of Mark Tanney, who is not a scientist, doctor or bee-researcher. Even though he does sound like one. I was not compensated to do this interview, or to publish positive statements about the company and their products but chose to do it after being impressed with Mark's knowledge and passion about the subject matter, and after trying the product samples and wanting to share them with you.

 Photo courtesy of Dixie Native

So let’s talk about solutions. Is there anything that the Average Joe (or the not-so-average person who wants to change the world) can do to help save the bees?

Yes there are some things that can be done, and there are indications in some areas that these things are really making a difference in bringing the bees back to a healthy level. So it’s absolutely possible.

The number one thing that could be done would be to start to have a hive or two of your own in your backyard or on your rooftop. There are lots of urban places that have rooftop beehives, like New York City (the link takes you to a YouTube video about a group of Brooklyn beekeepers. Note that rooftop beekeeping is no longer illegal in NY! Huzzah!). It’s possible to do it just about anywhere

However, there are a few things you have to check first. There are still a few cities that zone against having beehives, but not many, so check your local zoning ordinances. Also check to make sure your neighbors aren’t allergic to bees, or if they are really opposed to beekeeping. They might just need you to convince them first. These are just some common sense things. And remember that bees can sting, and for someone who is allergic it is a serious issue.

It is relatively easy to have one or two hives. And the presence of beehives helps tremendously with the production of flowers and fruits in the neighborhood. There are noticeable differences on everybody’s trees and gardens when the bees are out there pollinating. It does take some investment of time and money, but the rewards are wonderful for feeling like you are making a difference for the world, and also, you will get some honey. Wild honey tastes a lot different than what comes out of those bear-shaped jars in the supermarket. Most importantly, there is substantial evidence that backyard beekeepers are making a real difference (link to a YouTube news piece) in helping the bees recover against Colony Collapse Disorder.

Another thing you and I have talked about is planting for bees. How does that help against CCD?

Planting for bees is a very localized determination as far as what is going to be the best thing to plant in your area. Probably a local nursery that is oriented towards organic supplies will know which are the best plants to attract bees in that particular area. One general rule of thumb is that native flowering plants, even things we would often call weeds, are sometimes the very best thing for the local bees.

If you are interested in finding out which plants might work for your area, there are a few plug-in charts available online where you can put in your zip code and the chart will give you a list of the plants that are good for your area. Planting and attracting bees locally is easy and it’s good for bees because they will eat the nectar and the pollen that is in those plants. When there is more of that around, and the bees have what they like to eat, then the bees thrive. Another key aspect to this is to stay away from using pesticides as much as possible, and encourage others to do so as well, especially on any planting you do for bees.

Will planting for bees make for a healthier bee population that will perhaps be able to withstand CCD better than in the past?

Yes, in fact CCD isn’t necessarily completely covering the country end to end. There are areas that if you encourage a healthy bee population to grow and have the variety of nutrition they need, then they are going to be stronger and able to fight the parasites and pesticides that threaten them. And if you plant for bees without pesticide use, then that will have positive affect on the bees as well. It absolutely makes a difference, and it’s probably this difference that will make or break the whole bee issue. If more and more people start doing this across the country it could change everything as far as survival of the bees.

Planting a bee friendly garden can be really inexpensive, especially if you start it from seed. One could also do it in a very small amount of space - or a container if no land is available. But do you think it’s too late in the planting season to do bee-friendly planting?

That is a geographic specific question, because some areas will have longer warmer seasons than others. But there are bee-friendly plants that will bloom at all times during the planting season, and you would just need to find out which ones are appropriate for your area. One of the online planting guides I mentioned, or a local plant nursery would be a good source of information about this.

There is a good chance that people may have bee-friendly plants in their gardens already. What can be done to make sure that those plants are readily available, and cultivated for bees?

Certainly the most important thing would be to not remove them. The one thing that can be done any time of the year is to really become aware of pesticides, and stop them completely if possible. If that’s not possible, then reserve areas of your garden where you do stop using them. That is something that would make a really big difference. People should turn to that as soon as possible. Pesticides kill bees. It’s that simple.

If you do have bee-friendly plants in your garden, you will probably see honey bees at some point. One important thing to keep in mind is that sometimes bees decide that they are too crowded in their hive, so they divide and part of the hive will leave and form a “swarm.” This is really the bee’s method of reproduction. A bee swarm can be a scary thing to see, but bees who are swarming are actually quite docile. The important thing to remember if you see a swarm is that you don’t want to kill the bees. Virtually all beekeepers perform the service of removing bee swarms. These beekeepers either keep the swarms and create new hives themselves, or they give the swarm to a new beekeeper to help get them started. So please, don’t just call an exterminator if you see a swarm of bees. Call a bee removal specialist who intends to save these bees. This is very important.

So in terms of pesticide use, now I can ask my Dad and Father in-law not to worry about putting pesticides on my lawn, because they're always complaining about the dandelions there. I'm going to tell them,  "No, they're for the BEES! We're just going to leave them!"

Actually, dandelions are some of the bees' favorite food to eat. Bees love yellow flowers, and dandelions are among the best bee food out there. And if it means you get to mow your lawn less, well then that's another side benefit. Maybe just try to go for as long as you can hold out, because however dandelions may look, they are actually one of the most bee-friendly plants out there.

It's quite amazing to think that something as simple as leaving the weeds in your yard can help potentially turn CCD around. It’s such an easy and inexpensive way to make a tremendous difference.

And the more people that do it the better. If neighbors work together - it could really turn things around.

What are some other ways that we can help the bees?

There are a few organizations that are taking donations, if that is something people are interested in. Heifer International is one, it provides people in impoverished areas of the world with a beehive as a way to get started to contribute to their families’ financial well-being. There are also number of organizations who are focused on finding a solution to CCD (Mahreen’s note: Penn State and UC Davis have two of the world´s leading honey bee research facilities, and are currently accepting donations).

Another great, and free thing to do is to just to educate ourselves about this issue. There are a couple of documentaries circulating around the country right now that may help. One is Queen of the Sun, and another is Vanishing of the Bees, and of course the PBS episode of Nature titled Silence of the Bees. They are showing in local theaters, and are entertaining and beautiful as well as being informational. Also reading articles and becoming more aware so that we can talk to each other about CCD is of great value and is completely free.

One other thing I’d like to mention is to organize local beekeepers to come and give presentations to schoolchildren. I first heard about it happening in Washington state, and apparently beekeepers are lining up to come and talk to the kids. To begin at the school level, by educating and inspiring young people about bees is an extremely valuable thing to do.

Even something as simple as going to visit hobby beekeepers can be such a valuable thing for people. It’s such a sight to see the bees going in and out of the hives and communicating with each other.

What about the scary factor? I wouldn’t want to get stung.

Bees can sting, no doubt. But generally, bees aren’t interested in harming anybody who approaches them in a calm way. There are also things called “observation hives” where half of the hive is made of glass, so you don’t have to get too close to the bees, but beyond that there are many educational videos that are very inspiring as well (here are Part One and Part Two of two short educational videos that Mark recommends).

Is there anything else you'd like to add before we end, Mark?

I think you've been pretty thorough. I guess I'd just say that there is no way to really get a sense of what bees are like without spending some time observing them, whether it's by a movie in the theater or video on the internet, or in person if that's possible. They really are magical little creatures. Being bees for a hundred million years, they are perfect at what they do. They create things that science is only beginning to understand. It's an amazing thing when you start to get into seeing how bees and hives work. It really does inspire a person to want to help protect them. So just get out there and start learning about bees. It will be a big first step towards combating CCD.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Mark. I've learned a lot, and I hope that together we can do something great for the bees as well raise awareness about CCD being a problem that we have the ability to make a difference against.

It was fun, and it's something that means a lot to me. Thank you for having me.
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