Bees In Your Clover?



The following article is a PRESS RELEASE. I have submitted it to newspapers in my area for publication, and I invite anyone who feels so led to copy it from this web site and carry it to his own local newspaper. I do request that I be given credit for writing the article and that the information about my web site be included at the end of the article.


Copyright 1998 by Janice D. Green

When I was a child, going barefoot through clover in the lawn could result in a sting on the foot. After a few tears and a day, the swelling would go down and life would continue as normal. And that WAS normal.

But, if you have clover blooming in your lawn now, even if you live in the country, you may find that there are no bees to be found. This is NOT normal. Neither is their absence a cause for rejoicing.

Our honeybees are not pests, they are our friends. This has nothing to do with honey. One third of the food we eat is dependent directly or indirectly on the pollination that is provided by our honeybees. Some of the foods included in this list are melons, strawberries, apples, blueberries, squash, pumpkin, oranges, grapefruit, kiwifruit, almonds, tomatoes, beans, and beef.

Huh? Did you say beef?

Yes, beef. Cows may eat mostly grass which is pollinated by the wind. No problem. But they must also eat alfalfa and legumes if they are to have the protein in their diets that they need to be healthy. Alfalfa and legumes do require bees if they are to re-seed for the next year's crop. This is but one example of how bees benefit more than only the specific crops they pollinate.

Birds and other wildlife need the bees to pollinate the wild berries that they eat. Blackberries, dewberries, elderberries, sparkleberries, etc. are full and juicy if there are bees around to pollinate them. Where there are no bees closeby, only small underdeveloped fruit will result. Wild plums will not make fruit without bees.

If you have clover blooming in your yard yet have no bees, then you will be unable to grow a vegetable garden that will produce quality fruit. Squash and cucumbers will fall off the vines, or if they survive they will be malformed and spoil easily. Watermelons, if they don't fall off the vines, will not fill out as they should, nor will they fully ripen without adequate pollination. A watermelon that has a lot of white seeds is not pollinated well enough to make a sweet tasting melon. Beans and tomatoes will not produce as much fruit without bees. Serious crop farmers are learning that they must now lease bees from beekeepers to get a good harvest, as there are so few wild bees left to pollinate their crops.

Our bees are declining for a number of reasons. The varroa mite has been in the news lately, and it is a serious problem. These mites live on bees like fleas live on dogs. They suck the juices from the bodies of the bee larvae causing them to emerge deformed and helpless. Beekeepers can protect their honeybees from varroa mites with treated plastic strips which are very expensive.

But there are other reasons for the decline of bees that you don't generally hear about in the news. Varroa is a "politically correct" smokescreen for many other problems which the bees face that are caused by man himself.

The MIS-use of pesticides cause high casualties among honeybees and wild bees alike. Most pesticides have instructions on their labels that state that they are not to be applied while the bees are foraging (gathering nectar and pollen from the plants). That means applicators might have to wait until evening, the very cool mornings, or whatever time the bees are not flying, to safely apply the pesticides. Too many of our farmers, and even more so, our aerial spray applicators, don't want to be bothered with these instructions and simply spray when it is convenient. My husband and I (who are beekeepers) lost over half of the 125 hives that were on one farmer's crops. The farmer paid us to bring them, but because it wasn't convenient to wait until evening to spray, he dropped the very bees he had leased by the thousands all over his cucumber fields. This doesn't usually happen with farmers who pay to lease bees, but it happens all too often with farmers who don't think they need the bees.

Cotton spraying is especially hazardous to bees unless those applying the pesticides pay attention to the times when the bees are foraging. The sad part is that the bees have been killed off so badly by now that it is difficult to tell if they are there or not. Bees love cotton blossoms. Ten years ago one could walk down a row of cotton in bloom and see hundreds of bees. Today, one is lucky to find a bee or two on the cotton. That is a scary thought when we remember that the bees must pollinate our food. Where are they? There are new varieties of cotton that have been developed recently that are genetically engineered in such a way that the farmer does not need to use pesticides as often. Last summer with these new varieties growing in our area, our bees fared much better than in previous summers. Hopefully this will continue to work for our bees.

Clear-cut logging and huge acres of farmland without wooded lands have also reduced seriously the habitat available for bees. The increased amount of land inhabited by people has diminished the acreage of land available for bees to live on as well.

Man's hysteria and ignorance plays an important role in the decline of bees. Recently a lady came to our honey house to ask us how she could get rid of the bees in her holly bushes. She had already used Raid on them and it didn't stop them. Upon investigation, the bushes were in bloom and the bees were happily gathering nectar and pollen. There was a migrant beekeeper close enough that his bees had found the holly bushes. We persuaded her to let the bees "bee" so she would have berries on her holly as well as a better garden with the help of the bees.

Not all people are so smart, however. In another instance here in South Carolina, hysteria may have been to blame for the deliberate vandalization and poisoning of about a hundred robust colonies of bees that by the end of the spring would have produced enough beehives to pollinate one million dollars worth of apples or melons.

Mankind must get a grip on his fear of bees as well as his hunger for profit at the expense of our bees if we are to avoid serious famine in our country. If you find bees in your clover it is time to express gratitude to the One who created these amazing creatures and has sustained them through these reckless years. If you don't, it is time to stand up for the bees, educate your friends and neighbors, and hug a beekeeper.

Janice Green, Beekeeper, Hemingway, SC
...Of Bees, Beekeepers and Food: A Primer about Pollinators

Do a bee count in a clover patch in your yard and report back to share your data on this web site.