By David Harrod, Beekeeper & President, Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild

National Pollinator Week was June 19-25, 2017 but anytime is a great time for you to demonstrate your support for honeybees.   You can start your family’s honeybee awareness by looking around your kitchen. Those summer fruits you love? Peaches, plums, nectarines and strawberries? They’re just a few of the crops we’d lose if there were no honeybees to pollinate them. Blueberries, almonds and safflower—the list goes on and on. So, on behalf of the bees, you’re welcome.

But our nation’s honeybee population is in danger. Ten years have elapsed since a Pennsylvania beekeeper raised the alarm about a major bee die off, bringing the plight of the honeybee to the forefront of national conversation.  Here we sit a decade later wondering what’s next.  Certainly we know much more than we did, but the bees and their keepers still suffer.  Annual bee hive losses have averaged in excess of 35% for the past six years. In 2016, 33 % of the estimated 2.7 million honeybee colonies in the United States were lost. It is almost unfathomable to understand what this means environmentally and financially.  Sadly, here in Philadelphia our loss rate is similar.

The decline of the honeybee population is caused by much more than Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the label used for the mysterious losses appearing ten years ago.  Every beekeeper has their preferred culprit to blame.  It can be parasitic mites consuming the fatty tissues of pupating bees or shifting winds blowing fungicide through pollinating bee yards; in one almond orchard a cloud of fungicide harmed 80,000 honeybee colonies in a single event, killing 16,000 outright. The honeybees struggle to survive in the face of climate change, habitat loss, industrialized agriculture, urbanization, pests and disease.  It’s a dark time to be sure, but there are ways you can help.

Knowing that 50% of the world’s population is in urban centers, and that Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the United States, we must protect and expand our city’s community gardens, green roofs and green spaces to provide more forage for the honeybee. It’s not that difficult to do.

The honeybees in Philadelphia benefit when you plant a yard tree or a street tree.  A single tree with a fifteen foot radius offers the equivalent of nearly two acres of flower blooms!   Tree Philly (www.treephilly.org), the Philadelphia Orchard Project (www.phillyorchards.org) and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – Tree Tenders (phsonline.org/programs/tree-tenders) offer amazing educational programs and free/discounted trees for planting.  We are beginning to build partnerships with these groups so that together we can suggest the best trees for the bees while still maintaining a diverse tree canopy.  No room for a tree?  Planting bee friendly flowers and shrubs is another positive way to help honeybees. The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, working with our partners, can help you choose the best plants and shrubs.

Pests and disease are significant contributors to honeybee loss. The varroa mite, an invasive parasite from Southeast Asia (now almost worldwide), not only weakens the bees but carries other diseases harmful to them. The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild offers extensive education and training on honeybee health and integrated pest management for beekeepers.  For example, we teach beekeepers to regularly test and monitor the health of their hives and to develop a course of management for varroa mites.   

The topic of pesticide, herbicide and insecticide use is another issue that has the honeybee community abuzz.  While much of the concern over neonicitinoid pesticides is not well supported by research; science is constantly bringing new facts to light about the dangers pesticides and other agricultural chemicals  pose to the honeybees, our health and our food supply. Closer to home, we Philadelphians must determine our own personal comfort level with use of these potentially harmful chemicals that are also offered for use in our gardens on the shelves of the local hardware store.  At minimum, honeybees would benefit greatly by reduced use.

While some factors may be outside our control, we can have great influence on our local environment. So become involved.  Even small changes can help make a difference toward the salvation of this amazing insect we call honeybee. We can plant more trees. Encourage more green space. Limit our use of pesticides. Buy local honey. And we can educate ourselves, our children and our neighbors on the importance of a healthy honeybee population.  While no one single action can alleviate all the threats to the honeybee, you should know that your efforts have meaning to your beekeeping neighbors.

Those outside the beekeeping circles may not know that in 1851, the “City of Brotherly Love” became the cradle of modern beekeeping.  It was then that Philadelphia minister, Lorenzo Langstroth invented the moveable frame hive we still use to this day.  The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild is proud to carry on this rich and important tradition.

Help us share the buzz on honeybees. We have lots of fun and interesting events to get you started. Visit www.phillybeekeepers.org  to learn more about our Guild, regular meetings and classes.  And we invite all Philadelphians to join us as we celebrate the honeybee at our 7th Annual Honey Festival www.phillyhoneyfest.com September 7, 9, 10, 2017. Help us spread the word about the plight of the honeybee.

Learn more at www.phillybeekeepers.org.