The decline of native bees and, now, the domesticated
honeybee has focused the nation's attention on their importance to the nation's
food supply. These critters are the backbone of our existence, their work
essential for producing bountiful crops - including Long Island's tomatoes,
apples, peppers, corn and blueberries.
Bees and other insects move pollen from plant to plant, ensuring fertilized
seeds and genes flow among stands of trees, groupings of shrubs, fields of
flowers and throughout agricultural areas. Without pollinators, many foods that
wildlife and humans rely on would no longer be available. So it is incumbent
on all of us to be beekeepers. There are a number of things Long Islanders can
do to help protect and rejuvenate our local bee populations.
Populations of wild bees and honeybees are in decline nationwide for many
reasons - loss of habitat, poisoning from pesticides, and introduced parasites
and disease, among others. With the decline of wild bees and the pressure for
high crop yields, growers have grown more reliant on managed honeybees.
Although beekeepers have fought to keep their colonies healthy, something
new is afflicting these little workers. Last October, the first case of "colony
collapse disorder" was identified and reported in Florida. This disorder is
now reported in 35 states. Hundreds of thousands of bee colonies have abruptly
died or been severely weakened, and the cause is still unknown.
Luckily, the disorder has not yet been reported on Long Island. Local
beekeepers lost colonies this past winter but attribute those losses to extreme
fluctuations in weather.
Protecting open space is perhaps the most important action we can take to
protect our pollinators. Wild woodland, shrubs and flowers support native bees.
Voting yes for public land acquisition efforts, including municipal bond
issues and community preservation fund programs, will help protect bees.
Town of Brookhaven voters can protect thousands of open-space acres by
approving the community preservation fund referendum on the ballot in November.
Similar programs on the East End have protected thousands of acres.
Homeowners should also landscape with bees in mind. Widespread pesticide
use has decimated bee populations. By trying elbow grease and organic methods
first, and pesticides as a last resort, we can substantially reduce bee stress
Conventional lawns are a "desert" monoculture, offering no nectar or pollen
for bees. But it's possible to convert your lawn to be more ecologically
suitable. Bees need a less maintenance-intensive lawn that includes a diversity
of flowering plants, such as white clover and violets. In fact, clover is
often viewed as the most important American honey plant.
Since plants flower at different times, it is important to allow for a wide
diversity of plants in your yard, so that bees are able to collect nectar and
pollen throughout the warm months. The nectar is processed into honey in the
hive. Both nectar (honey) and pollen are stored as food for the colony during
the winter months. Honeybees will forage two to three miles from their hive in
search of food.
If you have an unwanted honeybee swarm or hive in or near your home,
consult a beekeeper to relocate the colony (check with the Long Island
Beekeepers Club for beekeepers) instead of killing them. A healthy honeybee
hive has 50,000 to 60,000 bees - that is a lot of pollinators!
Buying local honey helps local beekeepers stay in business, resulting in
more hives and more bees to pollinate flowers on Long Island. Eating local
honey has an additional benefit, as regular consumption can help relieve the
symptoms of pollen-related allergies.
Sixty percent of the honey consumed in the United States is foreign honey.
While people may be buying honey bears at the grocery store for a cheaper
price, it is ultimately costing Americans much more. The staggering value of
bees lies in their pollinating crops, trees and wildflowers.
Finally, more Long Islanders should consider keeping bees. The rewards of
beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. It is a relaxing and rewarding
hobby. You can build or buy hives for orchard mason bees, bumblebees and
honeybees - all bees found in our area.
Bees keep our world running. They are nonaggressive if undisturbed, keeping
to themselves to focus on pollinating flowers. As all can agree, Long Island
is home to a wonderful diversity of people, places and ideas. With everyone's
help, it will also continue to be home for a huge diversity of bees.