The Plight of the Honey Bee

In the past two years, nearly one third of the nations honeybees have died off. Formally known as colony collapse disorder, the vanishing of America’s bees is puzzling farmers and scientists from coast to coast. Many believe the plight is due to pesticides, herbicides, land development, dwindling food supply and a new virus that seems to evade the immune system of honeybees.

Bees don’t just make honey; they play a vital role in the pollination of our fruits and vegetables. According to the US Department of Agriculture, approx. one third of our diet comes from insect pollinated plants and honeybees are responsible for more than 80% of that pollination!

So here’s what you can do to help:

  • Replace some of your lawn (or put containers on your balcony) with flower beds.
  • Keep your garden as organic as possible! Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Click here for eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Plant native species, which bees love – for example: mint, daisies, strawberries, raspberries, lavender, salvia, asters, sunflowers and verbena.
  • Choose plants that flower at different stages in the growing season to provide a constant supply of food for the bees.
  • Create homes for the bees – Many of the wild bees you may encounter in your backyard make their homes in the soil or holes in trees. You can encourage bee-residents by providing nesting blocks.
  • Eat Haagen Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee Ice Cream to help raise money and awareness about bees (they also sell really cute T-shirts!)

Interesting facts about honey bees:

  • When a honey bee returns to the hive, it gives out samples of the flower’s nectar to its hive mates. Then it performs a dance that identifies the distance, direction, quality, and quantity of the food supply. The richer the food source, the longer and more vigorous the dance.
  • An average worker bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
  • One honey bee colony can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey per year.
  • To produce 1 pound of honey, honey bees must visit 2 million flowers and fly 55,000 miles.
  • An average hive can hold about 50,000 bees; a combination of drones (male bees) and worker bees (non-queen female bees).
  • A queen bee can live for 2-5 years, a worker bee 1-4 months and a drone 40-50 days

Read More:

Pollinator Partnership

Haagen Dazs Help the Honey Bees

Mysterious, Massive Disappearance/Death of the US Honey Bees

Honey Bees Have a Tough Union

Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey Bee Die-off Alarms Beekeepers, Crop Growers And Researchers



Filed under Food, Gardening, News, Outside DC

42 responses to “The Plight of the Honey Bee


    If you have any information to share with the Bitter Hinterlands readers, please feel free to share.

    • As soon as I looked into the plight of the Honey Bees, one thing stood out to me immediately. The beekeepers are continually poisoning the bees with deadly smoke to “calm” them and they have been doing this for generations. Engulfing bees with smoke is a very dangerous, primitive method that has never been changed and I believe the accumulative effect of doing that has finally caught up and is taking it’s toll on the bees. Below is a reply I received from my first inquiry to a local beekeeper:

      “There are about as many different materials used in smokers as there are beekeepers. I use pine needles because they are handy. The smoke does calm the bees and I use it any time I go into a hive.”

      Pine needles? I can’t even name all the toxins in pine needle smoke. Of course it calms them, they are poisoned into a semi comatose state. Has anyone ever heard of anesthetizing any other animal with smoke? A veterinarian would be sued for medical malpractice. Beekeepers completely fill the hive with this smoke several times a year. The smoke is also getting into the honey, by the way.

      But, wait, it doesn’t stop there. When I visited the USDA site and read of their ongoing study of the bees’ plight, I discovered the following:

      1. The USDA smokes the bees to sedate them while they do studies to see what is making them sick.

      2. They wonder why the bees just abandon the hives and disappear. Wouldn’t you if you were continually being poisoned and your hive is growing bacteria and who knows what else?

      3. They have now discovered that smoking bees might kill mites. The USDA is considering recommending smoking bees even more to combat mites. Of course it kills mites, smoke kills just about everything, including bees. Would they recommend this method for ridding their children or their puppies or birds of mites?

      So, there is a healthy second hand smoke? Wait til the tobacco industry hears that smoking pine needles is good for living things. And being completely engulfed in it has a “calming” effect.

      I am amazed that the smoke thing just goes right over their heads. Too bad it’s not going over the bees’ heads. I’ve seen a lot of blundering of wildlife in my day but, this has to bee one of the worst. Any dentist can tell you that bacteria love a smoker’s mouth. And, if you add sugar to that you have the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in. What? The bees are being overrun with bacterial infections? Hard to fathom.

      Has anyone sat in a smoke filled bar some night and then have to wash it out of your hair and your clothes? Not to mention coughing your head off for a couple of days. Now, imagine all the tiny little hairs on a bee’s body collecting all that oily smoke residue and them not beeing able to wash it off. Or, worse yet, having to lick it off. Plus, the effect that breathing smoke would have on their tiny little respiratory systems. They passed laws nationwide to protect us from second hand smoke. I am totally amazed and dumfounded.

      Here is a suggestion:


      • Tony Misita

        A light smoking, once and a while, of the bees with peat or dry leaves in order to inspect health of hive…etc., does no permanent damage to the bees (it is the use of pesticides that should be of far greater concern)…better to smoke them than to have them sting…which they will generally do in order to protect their hive when opened/tampered with…and as a result, certainly die once their stinger and bowels come out as a result of stinging…though I’m certain smoking them with “anything” is not the healthiest option for distracting them…but it is better than losing your populations by provoking attack/stinging…which means certain/immediate death for every bee that uses it’s stinger…honey bees really aren’t meant to be “kept” and “managed” by man…smoking is a necessary evil…but the only option until someone thinks of a better idea…I ordered Dr. Reese’s book online today and as a beekeeper I hope to learn all I can about how we can help the honey bee make a full recovery/comeback!!! …and if someone has an alternative to “smoking” the bees in order to distract them from stinging…I’m all ears!!!!

    • I just found this…..

      April 30, 2009 — Scientists have discovered a new class of chemicals emitted from burning pine trees. From a family of compounds known for their ability to alter human DNA, the findings could change the way we look at the impact of forest fires on public health.

      Alkaloids are commonly found in nature; plants produce them to help bolster the structure of leaves and pine needles, and they can be key nutrients to the right organisms. Many are prized for their beneficial effects on humans, while a select few, like morphine and caffeine are downright addictive.

      But in high enough doses, alkaloids can be potent toxins.

      Now Alexander Laskin and a team of researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington have discovered close to 100 different alkaloids in microscopic smoke particles lofting up from laboratory-simulated forest fires.

      “When roots, leaves and needles get burned, these chemicals can be released without modification into the atmosphere,” Laskin said. “They can be translated as aerosol particles hundreds or thousands of miles. It is possible that there is an impact on humans, animals, and that they get into the groundwater.”

  2. Mysteryship

    Check out “Every Third Bite”, a documentary about declining bee populations and local honey producers by the Meerkat Media Arts Collective in NYC.

  3. Ellen

    ah-ha! an excuse to plant hoards of mint plants that my father cannot fight! 🙂

    dancing bumblebees sounds so poetic.

  4. This is great information! We’ll definitely be planting things for the honeybees this summer. We had quite a few in our garden last year, and now I can gear certain plants toward attracting them. Thank you!

  5. You can also help in another way that I don’t think I saw mentioned!! If you go to you can sign up to help solve the disappearing-bees problem. They’ll send you a packet of sunflower seeds, you plant them in your yard (or wherever) and then do some 30 minute “watching for bees” sessions once they’re mature. It helps them research bee activity around the country. I just got my seeds in the mail today ^_^ I love the idea that I can grow sunflowers AND help bee research at the same time.

  6. Nat

    Bees are dying also here in Europe 😦
    In Spiegel International you can find good articles on the subject. It seriously worries me…

    “Bees in the German state of Baden-Württemburg are dying by the hundreds of thousands. In some places more than half of hives have perished. Government officials say the causes are unclear — but beekeepers are blaming new pesticides.

    By Andrew Curry

    You can download the complete article over the Internet at the
    following URL:,1518,552556,00.html

  7. Let’s all do something to help out our lovely bees!

  8. Hi,

    A note to let you know about this article, a current issue being addressed by the Earth Vision project –

    “Why the Bees Are Dying”

    Using spiritual ecology to bring environmentalism to the next level, the EV project has several current newsworthy items.
    To access them, visit:

    Current Environmental Issues (on the Earth Vision site)

    Thanks for your attention,

    Josef Graf
    Earth Vision + Insight21
    answers for the 21st Century +

  9. Pingback: Food for Thought « Sandy Spring CSA

  10. Pingback: Food for Thought - June 9, 2008 « Sandy Spring CSA

  11. Pingback: Help save the bees, plant sunflowers | Mostly Related.

  12. Save The Bees of Blue View Lane

    Wearing our distinctive logo contributes to our scholarship fund, and supports research into this serious problem with the bees.

    Our unique logo also sends a message of concern for all environmental issues from Global Warming to Silent Spring.

  13. Pingback: Bee T-shirts for FREE! « The District Domestic

    • Master Gardener of Bees

      I would love a free bee t-shirts I am a Master Gardener and I help the public with questions and education. My garden is a pollinator garden. I would love the shirt to wear and share at the public displays we do, thanks

  14. Check out our site for fantastic Save The Bees Shirts
    And read the linked blog for bits on bees, books, videos, ditties, photos and more. Also articles on green issues generally, solar,wind, etc.

    Save The Bees
    Wear Our Logo
    Support a Student’s Scholarship
    And Bee Research


  15. Pingback: Food for Thought - Links, Bees, Recipes

  16. Please do not use pesticides on your garden or lawn. The bees are suffering from extreme disease overload and their autoimmune systems are shutting down. When our autoimmune system shuts down we suffer from HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis to name just a few of the diseases.
    Dr Reese’s upcoming book is “The Incomparable Honey Bee”, Rocky Mountain Books

  17. joshua tapp

    i work with my grandfather in the largest commercial apiary in north carolina. we see the problem is mostly chemicals and bad beemanship. pesticides and chemicals that are in them kill bees and that is the problem there is no way to deny that. jsut last week some had 6 hives die out because some one but a oil based sollution with there fungicide, the fungicide wouldnt have harmed the bees but the sticking sollution which prolongs the fungicides presence does and killed about half of his bees. bad beekeeping is to blame on the fact that people dont know how to take care of bees, or the public dont know that bees are so vital. most cant tell a yellow jacket from a honeybee and its sad so thats another reason. sorry for my gramatically atrociousity.

  18. I’ll be stoked for you to have a look at my new book The Incomparable Honey Bee, Rocky Mountain Books. It will be out in Oct 2009. Cheers and keep up the GREAT work! Dr Reese

    • Hi Dr. Reese-

      I’d love to check out a copy of your book. Please let me know how I can get my hands on a copy when it comes out.


  19. Hi Sarah — It is due out in the fall, last I heard was 1 Oct. If you let me know your mailing address I’ll make sure you get a copy.

    Cheers, Dr Reese

  20. Dear Sarah — here’s a You Tube of the Incomparable Honey Bee!!! What do you think??? Dr Reese
    PS please share it — T H A N K Y O U

  21. Hi Sarah — got a copy of:
    The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination — is your snail mail address still:
    1300 35th st NW
    Ste 1
    Washington, DC 20007

    Dr Reese

  22. Helen

    The plight of the honey bee is a huge problem and all of these things are great ways to make a difference. If it’s your cup of tea (with honey!), try praying for change in addition to all of these corporal efforts. This is a cool article about that:

  23. When I am told that something, like smoking bees, doesn’t do any harm, I have to ask how long that study was conducted. Here is an example of why I have to ask.
    When the African slaves were brought over here by ship, the conditions were so horrid that only the Africans who had a metabolism that either stored salt or, possibly, absorbed it from sea air, lived.
    The Africans that survived the voyage were a group with a specific metabolism. The genetic pool had been severely narrowed and the average person, probably, perished.
    The ability to retain salt might have helped these survivors when they were being worked ridiculously hard in the fields. Hopefully.
    Now, let’s jump ahead to modern day America where salt is added to almost every food. Cakes and candy even have salt.
    Suddenly, these people are extremely susceptable to heart disease because they are receiving and storing way too much salt.
    So, is smoke harmless to bees? All bees or just the ones left?
    How long was this study conducted?
    Yes, there are other factors and toxins but, breathing in smoke doesn’t help things. It was explained to me that it makes their abdomens distend, which makes it impossible for them to sting. Good for beekeepers, not so good for bees.
    Yes, they could automate the whole honey gathering process and spare the bees all the grief.
    Get an electric wheelchair and build an eggshell
    cab, remote arms and a small pickup bed.
    Give the bees a break. I’ll design it if necessary.
    Wait, I just did. 🙂

  24. Tony Misita

    You obviously don’t keep bees…I’m greived by your unrealistic responses considering the seriousness of these matters… Fantasy devices…and comparing apples with oranges slaves/honey bees…of course…it is very easy to complain but much more useful to share realistic advice and ideas …it’s actually quite a desperate situation that will not be solved on a whim…or with costly equipment/inventions…pesticides are at the root of the problem…and not burned leaves without question…

  25. Roy Neher

    If you are going to make this personal then the conversation is over. I’m not taking anything lightly.
    No, I’m not a beekeeper but, if I had to stun the poor little things into a semi-comatose state everytime I had to deal with them, I would have come up with another way about 200 years ago.
    What I was saying about slaves is that things that worked 200 years ago may not work today.
    What one does is look at other insects that have the same habits and food sources and there are lots of them. I don’t know of any other closely related insects that are suffering from this. Insecticides are hideous and should be banned, without a doubt but, why aren’t other insects suffering the same form of colony collapse?
    Maybe they are, I haven’t heard of any.
    It seems to be only Honey Bees, the only ones that are being “farmed” by man.
    I just happen to believe that, since it does every other living on the planet, being smoked into unconsciousness compromises their immune system.
    If beekeepers want to keep doing things the same way they always have then, do it. But, eventually, beekeepers will have to retrain , one way or the other, because there won’t be any bees.

  26. Tony Misita

    Thankfully the conversation is not over…it’s only just beginning …and many more people are doing more than talking ….and smoking bees into unconsciousness is not what happens when lightly smoking…and yes…I take it very personal…if you can’t handle someone disagreeing with you…especially when you don’t know what you are talking about…then don’t get upset with rebuttal …

  27. Rebecca

    Although, the cause of colony collapse hasn’t been pinpointed yet, I have to agree with Roy that subjecting living things to smoke is never a good idea. Smoke contains many deadly chemicals and there are a lot of different microbes that thrive in oily smoke residue. Maybe, one of them has mutated?

  28. In fact no matter if someone doesn’t be aware of after that its up to other people that they will assist, so here it happens.

  29. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Many thanks, However I am having issues with your RSS.
    I don’t know why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  30. I am really inspired together with your writing skills as smartly as with the format to your weblog.
    Is this a paid subject matter or did you modify it yourself?
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  31. On another note..
    Believe me, I do not want to see Honey Bees disappear. That would be a tragic loss.
    But, they are not native and there are very many other species of bees that
    would benefit from them being gone. Pollination would continue. Once
    again, I do hope we can save the Honey Bees. I do want to imagine a world without honey.

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