(At the risk of opening a major can of worms)
This is going to be a long post and I'll be straying away from the usual chit-chat. If you want more of that, tune in next week. I'll tell you all about this year's apple pollination.
I'm really on the fence about even broadcasting this because it's bound to ruffle some feathers. I don't like controversy and the last thing I want to do is land myself in the middle of it. But this has been weighing heavy on my mind all day, so here goes...
It sort of started with a message on Facebook. My good friend, Layne Schwier sent me this link yesterday. He asked, "Is there any truth to this?"
Just another stupid petition about neonic pesticides..The kind that does nothing, but makes somebody feel good. Instead of the appropriate response (Layne, don't get your panties in a bunch. And stay off of Facebook.), I chose not to respond. Mainly because I don't know how. There is so much screaming about neonics... and pesticides in general. I hear it every week at market. I read about it-- bee mags, farm mags, blogs, etc... And still I really don't know what to think. I'm from a farm background and I'm torn. The only up-close experience I've had with a bee kill was two years ago. Jim North had hundreds of hives with big piles of dead bees. This kill coincided with the corn planting on a hot dusty week in April. We visited several of his bee yards. He called the Circleville Herald and the Columbus Dispatch. They came and did interviews.
By May the dust had settled, the hives were looking healthy and life went on. A flash fire of controversy that Jim said (bitterly) would all get swept under the rug. He was right. Jim had lost his spring honey crop, but as it turned out it was a pretty good year for making honey. Jim made a lot. We made a lot. Our hives? Almost all of ours were in the apple orchards for contract pollination during the same week Jim's bees were dying.
So months later, having collected dead bee samples all over the state, the report came from the ODA that nothing was found. (Which stank to high heaven.) By this time I had learned that commercial beekeepers statewide had experienced this same type of bee kill in April, 2012. I have since talked to several of them. One saying sarcastically, "Gee, I'm so happy to find out that nothing killed my bees."
So the whole thing sort of got whitewashed. But it stuck with me... enough to bring us to what I discovered today. This accidental experiment just fell in my lap.
I was loading the truck to head out around 9 a.m. this morning when my cousin Adam pulled the tractor into the field to plant corn. This field surrounds our place.
With Layne's Facebook query in the back of my mind, I thought, well... we've got bees... we've got corn planting... could there be anything to this... pesticide thing?
Conditions were perfect not to see anything abnormal. Adam was planting in a no-till field, there was still dew out, virtually no wind and little dust. If the pesticide was going to stay put on the seed and go in the ground like it should, these would be the ideal conditions.
It took just a few minutes to throw cardboard down in front of the hives. These were small hives, 4 to 7 frames of brood, not many foragers at 9:30 in the morning.
From what I could observe with the incoming pollen, most foragers were working the small crabapple in our front yard.
I went back to loading the truck, fully expecting to see nothing.
Maybe 30 minutes later, truck loaded and ready to go, I checked back.
Dead bees twitching and writhing on their backs!
I couldn't believe it... in just that short of time.
Same reaction: Holy Crap!
"Is Bridger out there? Get him inside!"
Checked the temperature as I was leaving for the out-yards.
With all this hitting home and really beginning to distress me, I took some liberties.
The seed truck was parked at the end of the field. Here's what was being planted:
On the way to the Dunlap out-yard my thoughts were unsettling. Was this total coincidence? Could this actually be normal for old dying bees, the twitching and writhing? Maybe I just never noticed?
The Dunlap yard (just three miles from home) had 16 hives. You can bet I was checking in front of every one as I worked though.
I found not a single instance of foragers squirming on their backs in front of the hives.
Ok, so what I was seeing at home wasn't normal.
Back home, maybe two hours later: more dead bees. All on their backs, legs twitching.
I collected a sample and took another liberty-- This is the tag off the seed corn bags.
Thoughts, Questions, Observations, Statements, Extrapolations...
-This is not a bee kill you're seeing. A hundred or so dead foragers hardly deserves a mention. The distressing thing is that these bees died so quickly after the planter went through. Foraging? Were they on the deadnettle? Were they drinking some dew? Did they fly through the planter dust?
This begs the question: How many died away from the hive? It's a big field.
-These hives are healthy and should make plenty of honey. Even a true bee kill like Jim's doesn't kill the entire hive (right off the bat), it just diminishes the work force. Jim estimates he lost $20,000 to $30,000 in potential spring honey that year. Later he had higher then normal winter losses. But we're all having higher then normal winter losses.
-What were these bees bringing into the hive? You can be sure I'll check tomorrow and over the next several days. If there are nurse bees out on the cardboard in numbers... then we've got a problem.
-The future of a beehive is in the brood. Foragers are what you see at the moment but all that incoming stuff (nectar, pollen, water...), all the work goes toward the long term preservation of the hive. Adult foragers live, work, and die for the benefit of future generations. (This concept at times seems lost on human beings.) So what if some of that stuff is bad stuff? If a neonic pesticide is systemic as they say, wouldn't pollen and nectar from corn or soybeans be somewhat harmful? I'm not the first person to ask this. It's been researched to death. And (according to big Ag chem) by the time the plant has reached pollination stage the effects of the pesticide have been so diminished it would be negligible to a pollinator.
-Ok. How much poison would it take to mess up, say, the brain cells of developing larva in February when fed pollen that was collected off of field corn in July? My guess is not much. But that's only a hunch.
-Am I aiming at the right target here? Can this small kill be attributed to neonics? I really don't know.
-So why are the neonics banned in Europe? Is there no incentive to have these pesticides au Home Depot magasin de la Paris? Hmmm... Are the research scientists here at home just smarter, knowing that there's really nothing to worry about. Go USA! Does the same chemical work differently on opposite sides of the Atlantic?
-Jim says our EPA is the laughing stock of the world.
-Jim also says that the neonics have a long residual. As in years.
This is all from him. I'm just a layman... haven't researched in any great measure. But I take his word for it. He's got more skin in the game. Anyway, a long residual means that the chemical stays with us. In the soil. In the water. This is what got me edgy this afternoon as I thought longer on it.
In the background, across the planted field is a stream.
I walked across just to have a look.
Sure enough, it took me all of ten seconds to find some bees having a drink:
-This didn't settle my thoughts.
-Laughing stock of the world? Hey, he said it.
-When was the last time you saw a butterfly? In numbers, I mean. When I was a kid we had a "play yard" near the house where I spent most of my kid hours. I can absolutely remember watching monarch butterflies drift across the yard all day long. This fall I saw one. I had just finished working a bee yard and it surprised me so much I had to take its picture:
This seems like a major change in my short life. I mean for something to be so different in just thirty years. Does this seem major to you? I don't know. The price of progress?
-How are they doing in Europe with all that pesticide banning? Surely by now they're into a famine or something. Are farmers out of business? Are they being overrun by cockroaches and ants?
-Laughing stock of the world?
-Here's a more typical day for planting:
When the 2012 bee kill happened in the midwest it was hot, dry, dusty and windy. Right here in south-central Ohio the russian olive and bush honeysuckle happened to be in full bloom. These plants line the forests and fields. I remember this because at the time I felt frustrated that my bees were tied up in the apples and not able to take full advantage of the bounty. The pesticide, the dust and the blooms turned out to be a terrible combination for Jim.
-Are we (as beekeepers and regular people) forever going to be ducking for cover and worrying? Worrying about what happens to be blooming during planting season. Worrying about what ends up in the stream... or in the food... or in the pollen?
-I don't want to pick a fight. I'm not good at fighting. This is not an environmentalist vs. chemical company vs. beekeeper vs. farmer thing. I like this blog to be informative and funny (Funny sells honey!) I'm simply documenting what I saw today and getting it out there.
*To you readers. Sorry for the sudden change of pace with this post. Now you've got something heavy to think about.
*To Adam- sorry to drag you into this.
Adam is a good guy. I didn't ask his permission for any of these pictures.
*To Jim North. I think he would want his quotes and opinions to be on here. But I didn't ask.
*To farmers in general. I've already ticked at least one farmer off with this blog. I know this is a sensitive subject.
*To my family (who would support me in posting this) My farming family put me though college and has given me a pretty rich life. It's not the farmers at the root of this neonic controversy. Farmers farm. They buy the seed that works and put it in the ground with equipment that works. Simple as that, they make money doing us all a great service.