Judy Glattstein
The Gardener at BelleWood

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Garden Diary - Sunday, 8 July 2007



Honey, Honeybees


There was a bee keeper at the Dvoor Farm Farmers Market today.



Jean-Claude Tassot of Tassot Apiaries suitably attired in his bee suit


was standing at a table with jars of honey, packages of comb honey, pure beeswax candles and home-made soaps



and a glass-fronted display case of buzzing bees


This is practically a life-long interest of his, beginning when he was a little boy in France and would help his uncle tend the bee hives. Today he has hives at home and also placed at farms here and there around New Jersey. Farmers like bees, busy pollinators for many crops from vegetables to fruit trees. So useful are honey bees (immigrants to our shores who arrived with European settles, along with flowers such as clover, Queen Anne's lace, ox-eye daisies, and chickory) that there's annual migrations, stoppered-up bee hives trucked from the citrus groves of Florida to California's almond orchards. Jean-Claude's bees are homebodies.

His bees make wonderful, prize-winning honey, only strained and not filtered, and raw, not heated.

But all is not well in the world of bee keepers. This spring I read a blog where a cottage smallholder in the UK posted about empty hives when they were opened at winter's end. News reports here in the United States mention the same thing on a larger scale. Jean-Claude lost the bees in about 90% of his hives. One hundred forty one hives out of 171 were wiped out. Not filled with dead bees as might be expected, or empty of honey, just empty of bees except for the queen and immature bees. Call it Colony Collapse Disorder.

There are all sorts of theories out there, from deleterious effects of cell phone towers to shifts in the earth's magnetic poles, some new disease, or . . . maybe it is due to pesticides.

It has always been important that when insecticides are used the timing must avoid when plants are in flower lest honey bees, a non-target species, also be killed. In the mid-1990s in France, imidacloprid, a popular systemic insecticide, was implicated in a catastrophic honeybee die-off. Between 1995 and 2002 honey production was cut in half. Since 2003 some uses of imidacloprid have been banned in France. It is, however, still permitted here. Manufactured by the German company Bayer CropScience, imidacloprid blocks a pathway in insect brains, leading to paralysis and death. In a 2001 article in the Journal of Pesticide Reform, German scientist Eric Zeisstoff wrote that his research "indicated that bees affected by imidacloprid suffer problems with orientation. Bees with a particular level of imidacloprid contamination at 500 meters from the colony did not return to the hive at all." Effectively, at sublethal doses imidacloprid is toxic to honeybees. Disoriented, they cannot find their way back home.

And it is critical that bees not become lost. There's something magical that happens in the intricate routine of bee and hive and flower and honey. For honey bees dance. They dance to tell other worker bees back at the hive where to find flowers with nectar and pollen. With their dance they can communicate direction and distance. Forty years ago, in 1967, Karl von Frisch and his colleagues detailed this in a book, The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. So even if they are not killed, if the 20,000 to 30,000 worker bees (twice as many at the height of summer) in a hive go astray, become lost, so too is the hive. Colony collapse disorder.


Jean-Claude has lovely honey. I bough a 5-pound jar. His table was well stocked with honey and beeswax products. May it continue to be so.