In the Fresno area earlier this year, a beekeeper reported a loss of about $100,000 after he lost 200 hives to what he believes was pesticide poisoning, resulting from a grower failing to follow label instructions. Because of the importance of bees as pollinators to the world’s food supply, growers are obligated by law to heed instructions for the chemicals they use.
Although Sacramento County doesn’t have a significant commercial bee presence (including bee-related businesses, such as honey manufacturing and pollination services) there is a healthy community of backyard beekeepers, and these bees also are vulnerable to pesticide use as well, although on a much smaller scale, said Elina Nino of the UC Davis Elina L. Nino Bee Lab.
In agriculture, growers contract with beekeepers to supply pollination services because there simply aren’t enough wild bees to pollinate their fields and orchards. The need for armies of bees to pollinate backyard gardens and fruit trees in urban areas isn’t the same, but without a ‘healthy pollinator population’ urban gardeners can tell the difference in their yields, Nino said.
Nancy Stewart, who with her husband owns Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies, has seen this play out firsthand. Years ago, widespread spraying by growers and gardeners battling the dreaded medfly decimated bee populations in Carmichael, and garden yields reflected it. But after backyard bee hives were installed, gardens and fruit trees rapidly increased production.
Bees play a beneficial role in urban environments as well as in agriculture, and it’s important to be careful with pesticide, Nino said.
As with agricultural pesticides, people should be careful with what they spray, and refrain from spraying blooming plants during daylight hours when bees are at work. But it’s possible to avoid using toxic chemicals at all, Nino said, adding that alternative pest control methods can be found on the University of California Integrated Pest Management website.
Another thing urban bees need is nectar. Honeybees are ‘generalists,’ Nino said meaning they don’t specialize in a particular plant, but will take what they can find. For example, they don’t really enjoy avocado nectar, but they’ll partake if there’s nothing else around. Beekeepers should help ensure their winged guests have groceries by planting flowering vegetation. Information on plants honeybees like can be found on the Haagen-Dasz Honey Bee Haven site.
Jensen has noticed her backyard bees are crazy about sunflowers – so much so that she can only bring them inside at dawn or sundown, or else they’re so covered in bees that even if she shakes them off, one or two ride into the house with her.
Bees can be misunderstood – carrying a wicked stinger that breaks away to keep inflicting pain, honey bees are often an unwelcome sight, especially in large swarms. But swarming honeybees are normally not aggressive, because without a hive, they lack the motivation to sting. Normally honeybees will only sting in self-defense, or defense of their home.
However, if a swarm of bees takes up residence on a tree in your yard, experts say it’s probably a good idea to call a beekeeper to come take them away sooner than later. Although the bees might move on of their own accord to find a suitable location for a hive, the location they find might be in a crack or crevasse in your home’s siding or eaves.
It’s best to leave the job of evicting bees to a beekeeper, who will find them a new home, Stewart said. For one thing, it’s important to make sure the queen is taken away with the rest of the colony, or they will return to find her.
Here are some interesting facts about bees from the UC Davis Elina L. Nino Bee Lab
- Honeybees are only one species of bee among about 20,000, with about 4,000 different species found in California.
- About 80 percent of edible plants are pollinated by animals, with a large percentage of these pollinated by bees.
- There are 2.5 million to 2.7 million bee colonies in the United States.
- In California, there are about 11,000 amateur beekeepers.