“The Super Bowl of Beekeeping” –  August 19, 2018, New York Times Magazine

My response to the above article:

As it is cited in this article, the ground beneath the almond trees is barren of growth. Most likely this was achieved by the application of herbicides, perhaps in combination with a pesticide to further clear it. What does this accomplish? The death of a healthy microbial diverse soil. This status then demands the application of a synthetic fertilizer which has only a narrow and very concentrated content of nutrients. And, because this fertilizer is salt based, it further negatively impacts soil life. 

So how is this relevant to bees? It is because of these activities that all of the in-place native pollinators – bees, butterflies, and insects – are impacted. This population of natives, which are much more effective pollinators than the imported honey bees, are decimated. This has generated the importing of what is an invasive species into the farming environment. The practice of constantly transporting these hives all around the country, being exposed to all kinds of weather, and a constantly changing diet has created stresses on these non-native bees. This heightens their vulnerability to disease and pest infestation. Just like human health, stress lowers the ability to have a healthy resistance to many types of infectious diseases. Obviously added to that is the practice of broad spectrum pesticide spraying which kills them outright.

Tools for creating a solution:

Planting an undergrowth in the orchards of red clover and other nitrogen fixing native plants and using organic compost materials would:

– enrich the soil and regenerate the microbial life that generates plant nutrients

    • support and rejuvenate the native pollinator population
    • hold water in the soil and prevent wastage
    • do away with the cost and impacts of poisonous herbicides and pesticides
    • diminish the impact of synthetic fertilizers that create dead zones in our lakes and rivers from the excessive nitrogen component unable to be absorbed by the plants

If the choice to solve this issue, as referred to in the article, is to create “robot” bees, this ignores the actual problems and challenges that many areas of our entire population faces. That is, that we are on the edge of destroying the basis of maintaining a healthy productive environment that continues to be able to regenerate itself. The foundation of a sustainable earth environment is the constant interaction and support of life that is the result of a state of biodiversity. Each layer of life in this system is vital to the growth and viability of the next one in the chain. We humans rest on the amazing tapestry of each species’ contribution to all of existence. These almond orchards is just one example 

of creating and artificially maintaining a monoculture crop that uses an inordinate amount of a limited resource. Long term thinking has to be developed rather than short term fixes. Profit can then be thought of as a deepening of positive nurturing that carries over into ages, not just for a day or for a year.

Judith K. Robinson