The day began with signs of gloom and doom. A new report from the National Wildlife Foundation said that monarch butterfly populations continue to decrease. Then a friend emailed a link to a New York Times story about the travails of a bee-keeping family I remember from my childhood.(1)
The Adee family lived in north central Kansas at the time, not far from my parents’ farm, but their business operated in many states. Today Adee Honey Farms is the largest in the country and the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has been killing bees here and abroad is also affecting them. Last year 44 percent of the bees in the U.S. died, and the Adees lost half of their 90,000 hives.
This is serious. Ninety percent of the food in the world comes from 100 crops, and 71 of those crops depend on bees for pollination, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. No pollination – no crop. No almonds, avocados, apples or cherries. If you like to eat, this affects you.
Honeybees get most of the attention, but the world has many different bees. Illinois has 500 bee species, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden. That includes the bumblebee. The rusty patched bumblebee, whose numbers have declined 87 percent in recent years, was just recently added to the federal list of endangered species, so it is now a crime to harm or kill it.
What can we do? We can write to the EPA. We can write to our state and national legislators. We can write to the President. We can grow plants that nourish bees. Liz Holmberg discussed plants for early pollinators in our March/April issue, and a story in the January/February issue reported on research whether non-native plants are also beneficial to pollinators.
We can also follow the example of Candide in the eponymous 18th century classic by Voltaire. “Je sais aussi qu’il faut cultivar notre jardin,” Candide says in the last line of the book. “We must cultivate our gardens.”
By the time Candide utters these words, the characters have endured unspeakable horrors and seen countless examples of misery throughout the world. One character, Pangloss, persists in believing that everything always works out for the best and keeps repeating that “this is the best of all possible worlds.” Candide is having none of that. He is world weary but not about to give up. We carry on, he seems to be saying; we do what we can with our little plot of earth to make it productive and beautiful. We don’t ignore the gloom and doom – it’s still there – but we persevere and do our best to make this a better world for bees and butterflies, ourselves, and the rest of the planet.
A worthy message as we begin another gardening year.
(1) Feb.16, 2017, “A Bee Mogul Confronts the Crisis in His Field” by Stephanie Strom”