The days are getting shorter, losing minutes on both ends now, but the bees are still hard at it, zipping in and out of the hive as they collect nectar from Christmas berry, palm flowers and whatever else that's yummy out there. Last evening I watched a waggle dance on the landing board of one colony, perhaps a worker bee telling her sisters about a great foraging spot to check out in the morning.
Pollen samples throughout Hawaii were checked out for pesticide residues as part of the USDA-APHIS Honey Bee National Survey, and the results look good. State apiarist Danielle Downey posted the report on the Hawaii Bee Facebook page (emphasis in the original):
GREAT NEWS! Pollen samples throughout Hawaii were tested for over 200 residues of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. The results confirm that Hawaii’s bees are finding CLEANER pollen than the rest of the USA. Most samples contained no residue, and of the 5 residues detected, two are registered Varroa treatments, and levels were far below US averages. As you can see from the data here, Hawaii has very low prevalence of these residues. Great news for our bees!
Nine samples were taken throughout Hawaii, with four on the Big Island, which has a lot of commercial beekeeping and queen-rearing facilities. Samples from Kauai, Molokai, Lanai and east Maui showed no pesticide residue.
It would be good to do some additional testing on Kauai, and the report did include a link to a site where pesticide residue testing for beekeeping and honey products can be procured. Though a lot of claims are made about the bees in regard to pesticides, we know very little about what's happening with them on Kauai.
I was interested in this interview with honeybee expert Dennis van Engelsdorp, a professor and research scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, about why the bees are dying and the roles of pesticides and fungicides in their decline:
[B]ack 20 years ago, a pesticide kill was easy to see. You would find a lot of dead bees in front of your colony. However, pesticides have become much more advanced. And so they're not killing bees directly as pronounced as they have before. Still you'll see mortality that's clearly pesticide kill, but we think pesticides are having a sublethal effect. So they're weakening the bees' immune system or they're changing the bees' behavior.
Still, it's not just an agricultural issue. As van Engelsdorp points out, there's a lot that folks can do in their own backyards, and should stop doing, too (emphasis added):
The other thing you can do is plant a pollinator garden, so have flowers that flower at different times of the year in your back yard that provide food for bees. And make sure you're not applying pesticides to these gardens. It's an amazing fact that backyard gardeners use many more times the amount of pesticides when compared to farmers per acre. And so don't use pesticides in your back yard. Also think about growing a meadow rather than a lawn. Why do we have these perfectly green lawns that are sterile? They're green deserts. So having different flowering plants in these lawns helps bees and the environment in general.
I've found bees really love holy basil, and it grows like a weed. So next time you're tempted to kill a weed, ask yourself, is this bee food? And if it isn't, can it be yanked instead of poisoned?