Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Promoting Pollinator Health

Photo by Carilyne Vance
Pollinator populations which include bees, butterflies, bats and beetles, support terrestrial wildlife, providing a healthy watershed and more. Honey bees play an important part in our agricultural ecosystem. According to the USDA, one-third of our daily diet comes from honey bee pollinated crops. Pollen is transported by bees, allowing plants to produce fruits, vegetables and seeds. 

Despite their critical role, these pollinators are being increasingly threatened by extreme weather, parasites and disease, and reductions in forage areas. Surveys of honey bee colonies as measured since 2006 have shown average winter losses of nearly 30 percent. Of particular concern is the impact of the invasive parasite, the Varroa mite, which the USDA considers “the single most detrimental pest of honey bees” and the one factor most closely associated with colony decline.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was brought to national attention almost a decade ago. According to Michael Raupp, an extension specialist and professor of Entomology with the University of Maryland, contributing factors for CCD are: 1) Infesting Varroa mites, 2) nutrition and weakened diets, and 3) pesticides, which can weaken the immune system of bees. Read more at his Bug of the Week website.  

Encouragingly, urban beekeeping is gaining in popularity, especially in Washington, D.C., with even the White House cultivating its own colonies. Honey bees thrive in pollinator patches, which offer bees blooming opportunities and a variety of flowers to support different bee species, increasing pollinator diversity.

Beekeeping was legalized in D.C. under the Urban Agriculture Apiculture Act of 2012 and is regulated by the District Department of the Environment. UDC has offered beekeeping courses in partnership in with The DC Beekeepers Alliance and the Northern Virginia Beekeeping Education Consortium.

“Pollinator forage is essential to the health of honey bees,” explained Sandra Farber, green roof manager and coordinator of the DC Master Gardener Program.

Recognizing the importance of pollinators, the new UDC green rooftop is also home to a pollinator garden.

Have additional questions about honeybee health? Visit beeinformed.org.

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