Honey Bee Observations in China

 
             It’s happened several days in row now.

            After class, on my return to my apartment building, I’ve come across a honey bee or two lying on the sidewalk.  On one occasion, it was a death.  On the others, the bees just seemed an unhealthy slow. 

            No feisty buzzing or zipping onward after my approach.  They just clung to the cement in desperate hopelessness, not bothering to go on.

 

Honey Bees in Crisis

 

            For several years now, we’ve been hearing in the States about a growing concern over the bee population.  The most recent report I saw on our bee dilemma was from MSNBC’s environmental video clips. 

            According to the US Department of Agriculture, there was a 29% drop in beehives last year in the States.  This drop is referred to among entomologists as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).   An eclectic mix of pesticides, insecticides, mites, viruses, electromagnetic radiation and climate changes were jumbled together as the reason for this decline. 

            Why is the population dip of a tiny insect such a threat? 

            Pollination of plants is largely due to the honey bee.  The report stated 80 % of fruits and vegetables we eat, many plant-based medicines, even our clothing (cotton, for example) depend on the honey bee for continued use. Over 235,000 species of flowers and 80,000  trees depend on cross-pollination for survival. 

            One average hive (considered 30,000 to 60,000 bees) can visit a million plants within 154 square miles in a single day.  With the disappearance of hives across the country, and the world, that’s a lot of land going without new growth potential.

            Basically, no honey bees and our world, not to mention our way of life, take a drastic turn, and it’s not for the better.

 

In China, Dangers for Bees As Well

 

            This is why the random sickly honey bee incidents I’ve been seeing on our campus have been gnawing at me for awhile.   Dangers for bees in the States seem to be here as well, with damaging results for the Chinese people, especially those who depend on farming for a way of life.

            Farmers account for 70% of the population.  An estimated 700 million rural farmers provide 60% of the food for the country with their average income being a very low $300 to $450 a year.  Those at the poverty level make less than $120 a year.

            For farmers who depend on cross-pollination for their livelihood, such as those with tangerine, apple and peach orchards, an environment with fewer bees could mean the end of what little  income they’re getting now.

            Then there’s the use of pesticides and insecticides which small farmers feel pressured to use or they’ll lose their crops to the pests that eat them.  With all the plant sprays and poisons out there, it’s no wonder China’s honey bees are feeling a bit queasy and slow.

            Aside from cross-pollination needed for some farmers’ produce, bees provide a livelihood for those in the honey business. 

            While Americans might occasionally buy honey, it’s nothing like China’s infatuation with the Pooh bear’s chosen nectar.   I can guarantee that in China, every home, college dorm room, restaurant kitchen, or tea shop across the country has a jar or two of honey for ready use on the shelves.

            Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors always advocate honey over the processed stuff.   It’s considered healthier than white cane sugar, although according to Western experts, sugar is sugar.  It’s all metabolized the same way, whether it’s white, brown, solid or fluid. 

            In my small town  grocery store here, there are 5 different types of honey brands available.  Manufacturers of these store-bought brands, not to mention their factory workers and bee suppliers, will be seeing limited income as honey bees disappear. 

            In my area of the country, quite a few farmers even sell honey themselves as a means of supplementing their income. 

            During the late spring and summer, weathered farmers can be seen with their stools placed strategically along the outdoor market aisles. Used, empty plastic bottles lie in a pile alongside baskets full of fresh, juicy honeycombs, pulled from trees found in the wild.  Customers pick over the hive selections, choose one and the sellers squeeze and squish the gooey substance into funnels which drain down into the bottles.

            I can’t say it’s the most sanitary thing I’ve ever seen, but it sure is fascinating.

 

A Balcony Boost for The Bees

                       

            While we can’t control all the bee-killing factors, we can help to make their lives easier to increase their numbers. The news report suggested planting large blocks of yellow, violet, white and blue flowers in gardens.  These colors are favored more by bees than others.        

            A small bowl of water left out in strategic places was also suggested.  Bees need water and in some of our drought-ridden areas, this can be a lifesaver for the little guys. 

            The point is to encourage bee visits, and that’s exactly my plan for today.  I have a lovely balcony which has been waiting to be filled with potted plants.

            Last week, on my wanderings down Longzhou’s narrow streets, I came across a wonderful plant shop.  Roses, flowering bushes and other brightly colored blooming varieties were ready for purchase.  The price was right and the sellers quite eager to be helpful with suggesting good buys.  I didn’t have enough money at the time so I promised to return next week.

            Next week is here, and after reading so much about our honey bees’ plight, I’m ready to do something about it.

            And on that last note,  I’ll be posting this now before heading off to the plant shop for purchasing some bee and butterfly-friendly balcony additions.

            Anyone out there want to join me by doing the same in your neck of the woods?

Welcome!

 

            From Longzhou, China, here’s Ping An (Peace) coming your way from Connie and the honey bees.

 

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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