At PermaEthos we are working hard to get our first flagship farm profitable and already thinking about the next few farms. We are working to teach Permaculture to as many people as we can and spread as much knowledge as we can as fast as we can. One reason we are doing this is the true environmental catastrophes that are modern agriculture and modern home “lawn care”. These two activities release more toxins into our environment every year than many more feared types of pollution. They damage soil ecosystems and harm animals of every size and shape from microbes to humans.
Of all of these chemicals it has been insecticides, and, more specifically, nicotinoids that have been implicated as being at least a factor in CCD, or colony collapse disorder. Now before a I proceed I want to state that I love honey bees. I am a new bee keeper myself and want as many people keeping bees as we can get. I say that because the next thing I am going to tell you is, as far as food productivity in North America goes, it should not matter if not a single honey bee existed here. In truth we should not ‘need’ honey bees at all in the US — now we do, don’t misunderstand me, I am simply saying we should not need them in order to have productive farms and permaculture systems. Hear me out because if you don’t already know what I am about to tell you, then you are about to understand how bad things really are perhaps for the first time.
So before Europeans came to the “new world” there were exactly zero species of honey bees in both North and South America. Yet it was one of the most productive systems mankind has ever known. While Europeans brought many plant species from the old world to the new, we still know that much new world’s native food plants needed pollination. There were thousands of species and varieties of pollinating insects to do the job. These were things like many of our solitary bees and wasps, flies and butterflies and many other insects filling the pollinator niche.
Europeans brought in the honey bee but it was still, for most homesteaders as we moved west, native insects that pollinated everything from apples to zucchini and everything in between. It wasn’t until the dawn of pesticides that honey bees became needed the way they are now in North America. With spraying and massive mono cropped fields we devastated the native pollinator population. Fortunately for our stomachs beekeepers came to the rescue. At this same time it became economically viable to put hives on trucks and trains and move them from field to field.
Because this happened farmers simply didn’t notice much about the loss of native pollinators. Bees went from being something that increased yields to something necessary for a yield, period, but did so over a period of decades, not weeks. In this way we slowly became dependent on a non native insect for our current modern existence in North and South America. So today there is a huge concern — what if we lose the honey bees? The larger concern should be that we have lost so many native pollinators. You really have to think about the scale of death necessary to make us so dependent on a single insect.
CCD is a huge problem — pesticides and other factors like GMO in corn pollen and herbicides are likely part of the problem, though frankly not 100% of the problem. They are certainly not the cause of mite infestations — bee size, comb size and beekeeping practices are the lager problems in that regard. CCD is actually simply a final symptom of a full blown systemic cancer manifesting itself at the end — a dying patient who has already had the cancer invade and metastasize into every major life supporting system.
Let me be clear, unlike some “natives Nazis” I do not blame the honey bee for any of the problems our native pollinators have. The two existed side by side quite well from the 1600s all the way up to the early 1900s with no evident conflicts. Frankly, when land is productive with flowing species there is room for everyone. No, it was humans that poisoned the native pollinators and displaced them from their habitats. Sadly this sounds all too close to what we also did to Native American humans as well.
As we look to counter CCD we should understand that it is a symptom, not a disease. It is a symptom of the over use of chemicals. That is a disease. It is a symptom of multi million acre mono cropping, which is a disease. It is also a symptom of the destruction of habitat — again, that is a disease. When you stop and really think about the fact that we have killed so many native beneficial insects and destroyed so much beneficial habitat and continue to do so at alarming rates you begin to see the truth. You realize that while CCD is a massive problem, the reasons it is such a concern are actually far worse. CCD has the potential to cause wide spread food shortages, but only because we have quite literally destroyed our own ecosystem. Bees were brought to America as a way to produce honey and wax products and due to our ignorance we are now dependent upon them for our very existence.