Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Being kind to bees

Warmer weather has finally arrived in Boulder, as have the buzzing blurs of black and yellow that herald colorful tidings of summer.

As nature's most prolific pollinators, bees ensure that flowers, trees and farmers' crops get into the growing spirit.

There are dozens of native bee species in the Boulder area. Most have fairly short active lives and co-evolved with specific plant communities.

Take the mason bee. It emerges around the end of March and is active through the first week in May. Within that time, each female has laid about 20 or 30 eggs.

Like anywhere, Boulder needs its native bees.

Why? Tom Theobald's answer is simple and succinct: "Because we like to eat."

One of the founders of the Boulder County Beekeepers Association and its president for more than 30 years, Theobald notes that bee pollination is necessary for roughly one-third of American agriculture.

"And it's the good stuff that they're responsible for," Theobald said of bees. "If you can be satisfied with corn and wheat and rice, you'll be perfectly happy, but if you like strawberries or apples or peaches ... If you remove the bees, you don't have them."

The pollination process is relatively simple, but extremely nuanced. A bee gets pollen grains on its body by brushing up against a flower's stamen. When the insect then flies to a different flower, it unknowingly drops grains of pollen into a second plant's stigma. The pollen then travels down a tube to the flower's ovary, which will later become a seed.

"The bees are doing a job that is so important for our food system," said Laura Tyler, who co-owns Backyard Bees L.L.C. with her husband, Andy Schwarz. "They do pollination."

Though wheat, barley, corn and alfalfa -- crops historically grown in Boulder County -- do not rely on bees for reproduction, Theobald points out that the insects are tremendously important for the organic farms that have cropped up in the area.

"That sort of farming is critically dependent on the honey bee," he said of organics. "(Bees have) always been important, but in terms of Boulder County agriculture, they're much more important today than they were 25 years ago."

But big problems are befalling Boulder's bee populations, as they are elsewhere in the United States.

A century ago, Boulder County was the leading bee-keeping region in the entire state, and one of the leading regions in the country, Theobald said. But locally, as well as nationally, bees are suffering. Their numbers peaked in the 1950s, when Theobald estimates there were five to six million colonies nationwide. That number has since decreased by roughly half.

Many local experts place the primary blame on systemic pesticides, which inundate the soil. They are then taken up by plants and ingested by bees. These pesticides compromise the bees' immune systems so that other irritants ultimately kill the insect, somewhat comparable to AIDS in the human population.

"Commercial bee keepers are losing a sizable portion of their colonies every year, probably 50 to 60 percent," Theobald said. "That's not sustainable."

And unfortunately, relying on native bees isn't a viable option.

"There's this thought that maybe we can just overcome the shortage of honeybees by promoting the native bees," Theobald said. "That just doesn't hold together."

Though it's more difficult to monitor populations of native bees, those that have been measured show similar declines as the honeybees, likely from the same problems.

So what can individual Boulderites do to help keep up the buzz?

The first, and perhaps most important, step is to make sure no pesticides or herbicides are sprayed in your yard.

Then, make your lawn inviting.

"What individual homeowners can do is to provide what bees like or what they need," Mikl Brawner, owner of Harlequin's Gardens, said. "You want to provide them with water, and you want to provide them with nectar."

He recommends putting rocks or gravel in a shallow container and keeping it filled with water without covering the pebbles completely, so the bees "can still walk around on something and get to the water."

Those with growing room can plant red bud trees, lilacs, maples, willow trees or many other tree and bush varieties, as well flowers like sunflowers, asters, golden rods and blue mist spirea.

Connie Smith, a manager at florist and garden center Sturtz and Copeland, says customers are starting to understand how big a role bees play.

"People realize the importance of the bees and pollinating," she said. "The danger is if we don't have them pollinating some of our food crops, then we won't have some of those foods."

Email: Courtney.Holden@colorado.edu.

Read more: Being kind to bees - Boulder Daily Camera http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_18200176?IADID=Search-www.dailycamera.com-www.dailycamera.com#ixzz1QsTyFX3N
DailyCamera.com

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