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My Turn: What’s the buzz about bees?

For the Monitor
Published: 6/17/2021 8:00:11 AM

As my husband and I sat dining and enjoying the gorgeous azaleas blooming on either side of our deck a few weeks ago, the usual humming of the bees was missing. I started to notice only one or two bees at a time feeding on each bush. And sometimes when I looked, I couldn’t find any!

This disturbing observation was a stark contrast to what we witnessed last year when we would usually see about a dozen bees feeding on each azalea. Our peach and nectarine trees were flowering at the same time as the azaleas and were sadly lacking in bees, as well. I never saw more than two or three at a time on each blossoming tree.

I continue to notice that not just bumblebees and honeybees are infrequent, but I am seeing fewer of the small, wild bees which have always been the most abundant type in our garden. I have since found out that these native bees do much of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to the work of pollination.

Hoping that what I was seeing was just an anomaly, I put the word out to various friends and organizations with connections statewide. Although a couple of people say they are seeing plenty of bees, others say that they, too, are witnessing a decrease.

Turning to Google I tried to figure out why. While many factors like pesticide abuse, habitat loss and severe drought (like the kind we suffered last summer) are mentioned, some recent studies point to rising temperatures from climate change as a key problem impacting bee health. A 2019 study on 14 wild bee species in New Hampshire showed that while some can migrate to cooler climes and thrive, others cannot survive, causing an overall decline.

I also found out that bumblebees, which were responsible for the lovely, buzzing sound on our deck during years past, are particularly vulnerable to heatwaves like the one we just had.

While there might be some debate about the reason why, I consider my observations a wake-up call, one which demands a sense of urgency and action on my part. Therefore, I resolve to continue landscaping my yard with diverse, pollinator-friendly plants that support a variety of bees.

At the same time, I will do all that I can, both personally and collectively, to reduce carbon emissions to curb increasing temperatures due to climate change. I invite others to join me in similar endeavors. Perhaps together we can avoid a complete collapse of bee populations.

Today, I am relieved to see that tiny peaches and nectarines are developing on our trees, suggesting that the few bees that are still present were adequate enough to get our trees pollinated.

Yet I cannot help but wonder. Will I soon have to start pollinating my flowering fruit trees and other garden plants myself? I hope not, because the bees do a much better job than I ever could.

(Judith Saum is a retired environmental health specialist and a UNHCE Natural Resources Steward. She lives in Rumney.)

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