Chelsea and Rob McFarland lure people into a sweet science: urban beekeeping
Honeybee populations are under attack but the founders of nonprofit HoneyLove believe bees’ best future is in cities.
West Los Angeles, Calif. — Butterflies and hummingbirds flit in the shafts of light behind Chelsea McFarland as she tells a group of about 20 interested volunteers – residents ages 6 to 66 from around this West Los Angeles suburb – what they can do to combat the dramatic worldwide depletion of the honeybee.
“Instead of one guy with 60,000 hives, our hope is that we can inspire 30,000 people to have two each,” she says to the volunteers who sit on folding chairs inside an auxiliary greenhouse on the grounds of Venice High School Learning Garden.
Between 1947 and 2005, the number of bee colonies in the United States declined by more than 50 percent, from 5.9 million to 2.4 million, she tells them. Researchers are now saying the once-mysterious disappearance is likely due to a combination of viruses, pesticides, and contaminated water, which makes bees more susceptible to everything from stress to parasitic mites. The bees pick up insecticides through dust and residue on nectar and pollen.
The recent Saturday gathering aims to reverse the trend. Ms. McFarland’s hope is that the information will ignite a passion within the listeners to (1) spread the word and (2) adopt a whole slew of ideas that can dramatically boost the bee population.
Those actions could range from becoming a full-time urban beekeeper – building and sustaining hives of bees and harvesting the honey – to planting a bee-friendly organic garden with bee-friendly plants, such as lavender, glory bushes, jasmine, rosemary, coreopsis, violets, thyme, wisteria, bluebells, trumpet vine, sunflowers, cosmos, and coneflowers.
Taking action also could be as simple as building a clean, outdoor, nonstagnant water source on one’s property.
“The best science tells us that the future of the honeybee is within the urban environment,” McFarland says. “Cities actually provide safer habitat than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping.”
That’s because urban areas offer more diversity of plants, and they are available year-round – not just in a single season, like most of the 100 crops that bees pollinate which make up about a third of the average person’s diet.
Bee pollination is worth $15 billion a year to the US farming industry, McFarland says. Bee depletion is also predicted to affect the beef and dairy industries by reducing the pollination of clover and other hay and forage crops.
The Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America told Congress in March 2007 that if the disappearances – known as colony collapse disorder – continued unabated, managed honeybees would disappear by 2035.
That would also result in higher prices for nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and possibly increased imports of cheaper fruits and vegetables from overseas countries where CCD is less prevalent…
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