Wild bees are good for crops, but monoculture crops are bad for bees

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bombus terrestris workers, Norfolk, UK.Some of the most healthful foods we can think of, whether blueberries, cranberries, apples, almonds, squash, etc., would never get to our plate without the help of insects. No insects, no pollination. No pollination, no fruit. Simple as that.

Farmers who grow these crops often rely on honeybees to do the job, but scientists are now reporting that honeybees, while convenient, especially so as they also provide us with honey, are not necessarily the best pollinators.

A huge collaboration of bee researchers, from more than a dozen countries, looked at how pollination happens in dozens of different crops, including strawberries, coffee, buckwheat, cherries and watermelons and have found that even when beekeepers installed plenty of hives in a field, yields usually got a boost when wild, native insects, such as bumblebees or carpenter bees, also showed up.

When it comes to beans and peas the only ones that can really do the pollination are bumblebees. Legumes have, in the main, closed flowers and the ordinary honeybee does have a problem getting into the back of it. Not so the humble bumble.

The message in all of this is that honeybees cannot carry the load. Honeybees need help from their cousins and relatives, the (other) wild bees and we must do something to promote it, so that we can keep honeybees healthy and our wild bee populations healthy.

Unfortunately wild bees aren't having an easy time of it as much of their nesting sites and habitat is being destroyed by monocultures of soya and corn (in the case of the USA) or suburbs. The woods and forests and the areas upon which they relied are gone. Changing climate may be another factor.

This means that is we want to have food tomorrow – and I sure think that we all do – then we must do something to keep our wild bee and pollinator populations healthy, as well as the honeybees, whether wild (yes, there are many) or in hives. Without bees there is no food.

The bees that have disappeared tended to be species that depended on just a few kinds of flowers for food. For those bees to survive, their preferred flowers have to be blooming when the bees start flying and need food. The warming trend might have thrown off that timing and timing is crucial for their survival.

One of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.

The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It's a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that are brought here from all over the country, but for the rest of the year there is nothing blooming and that means there are no bees.

In fact, in places where there are very large monocultures of almond, we don't find any native bees anymore at all.

Planting other flowers in and around these almond groves, maybe as hedgerows, blooming all summer long, would help. But even better still would be farms with smaller fields, and lots of different crops flowering at different times. Wild bees need diversity.

This proves, yet again, that our commercial agriculture, as it is, with huge tracts of monocultures of this or that, is not good at all for the environment.

While there is colony collapse in the honeybee the wild bees also suffer and that, more than likely, due to our agricultural practices that are totally against Nature.

Remember: No bees, no pollination.. No pollination, no food!

© 2013