July 17, 2015
By: Glenn Mayne
There is an eerie silence in my vegetable garden! In past years, when I go out in the early mornings to harvest, I hear a distinct “hum” in the quiet of the day. Upon inspection, I notice all kinds of pollinating insects on the plant flowers, and their moving wings are the source of the “hum.” I sit and look at the flowers, and notice very few pollinators. I do see some butterflies, a praying mantis, green lacewings and other pollinating insects, but no honey bees! The plants are loaded with flowers, healthy and vivacious! The flowers just will not turn into fruit!
The yield of produce from this garden is dramatically off! Yellow squash is off by 90% and cucumbers are down by 95%. Field peas and beans are down by 40%. Zinnias placed in the garden to attract pollinators are low in flowering by 30%. I measure this as produce either eaten fresh or processed and placed in my freezer, when compared to past year’s levels. What is going on? I can only conjecture, but it is my opinion the disease colony collapse disorder, which I have read numerous articles about, has come to my garden. I do not have a bee hive and simple rely on wild bees and other insects to pollinate my crops. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.
According to my research on this subject, this mysterious disease affects honey bees and results in entire colonies just disappearing! No one seems to know the exact cause, yet it does appear to be a nationwide problem. Maybe the reduction in bees accounts for the great impact on squash and cucumbers in my garden. I can only guess, but these plants have flowers that are generally down among the leaves, making it very difficult for insects larger than bees to enter the blossom. All other vegetable flowers are above the plant foliage and are accessible by wind and larger pollinators. While these crops are also off in production, it is not nearly as bad as squash and cucumbers.
This has been slowly coming on. My yields have been down slightly in the past several years, but I have attributed it to increased shade and not wanting to take down any more trees. This year, it is obvious that something is very wrong! What can be done to save the bees? Researchers are still investigating the cause of CCD. Some studies point to chemicals in fertilizer and pesticides that will control weeds and insects but stay in the soil and then get transmitted to bees in the next flowering cycle. Other studies talk of a type of mite that adversely affects a bee’s breathing capability. There are references to diseases that currently affect honey bees through a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae and pupae and causes the disorientation and death of immature bees. Another theory is that types of fungus can invade the intestinal tracts of adult bees and can cause premature death.
Whatever the cause, I believe it is serious! I will leave the research to the scientists and in the meantime, I will follow best management practices in my garden. I doubt if this action will do much, but with dwindling harvests, I have got to try something!
Glenn Mayne is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have.