Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Silence of the Bees

On Saturday, Fellow Traveler and I went to the farm of our "lamb lady," just north of Midland, for her local growers' open house. She and her husband raise Icelandic sheep and Icelandic sheepdogs, grow lavender, and conduct a mail-order wool business; in addition to their farm goods being available for sale, they invited other farmers who do business directly with the public to set up booths on their property.

We crunchy-granola foodies were in hog heaven, so to speak. We had a great time.

But there was a sad and troubling note during our visit. Our hostess, while taking us out into the field to admire her sheep, told us that she'd had to abandon plans to market her new sideline of lavender honey -- something she'd been very excited about offering customers this fall. Her hives had been doing fine all summer...but when the beekeeper came around a few weeks ago to check on the progress of the honey, he discovered that most of the worker bees, and the honey, had simply vanished into thin air; there was not enough honey in the hives to sustain the few insects that remained over the winter.

This strange phenomenon has a name: colony collapse disorder. No one knows why it's happening -- some have suggested a new disease, or pesticides, or even widespread cell phone and other wireless usage disrupting the magnetic field -- but CCD is happening across the globe. If you Google that phrase you'll find some very sobering information about how the disappearance of bees, whose pollinating work is necessary to support all manner of agriculture, is threatening our food supply.

I thought about that on Sunday afternoon when, just to get my ailing but stir-crazy partner out of the house, we went hunting for "road apples" through the farmlands of our county. In past years I've been able to collect lots of wild apples from roadside trees. This year we found hardly any. This may be due to several factors, including other human foragers clued into the possibility of free food for themselves or for their critters...but I wonder if a diminished number of bees also impacted the amount of fruit on the trees.

This makes me incredibly sad. I'm reminded of the old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

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