Last week, a reader posted the following comment after I had written about an upcoming talk on organic beekeeping.
“Over 20,000 species of bees pollinating, and we get caught up in the “honey bee” craze. We need to preserve native habitat for native bees. They are all we need for our crops (if they are present)!”
The comment got me to thinking about honeybees. The party line among beekeepers and some environmentalists is that we need to actively preserve honeybee populations in order to secure our own food sources. I had a chance to speak about this with author Ross Conrad, the guy that literally wrote the book about natural beekeeping. Assuming we don’t care that much about making honey, why is the honeybee so important? They aren’t even native to North America; why not let other native pollinators like ants, moths, flies, and other bees do the job?
According to Conrad, the unfortunate fact is that the habitat of native pollinators has already been destroyed to such an extent that there aren’t enough of these insects to take care of pollinating the plants that humans and other animals rely on for food. In his opinion these native insects are far too thinly spread to make it to the plants that need them in order to set fruit, creating a dependence on the imported honeybee. You may have already heard this statistic, but about 30% of our food needs to be insect pollinated, and at this point the honeybee is doing the lion’s share of this work.
Looking around, I found this site which has a lot of information about native pollinators. http://www.pollinator.org/beekeeping.htm. Maybe someday we will restore more habitat than we destroy, but until then it looks like we will need to make room for honeybees.