BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
KAYSVILLE – If there were no more bees in the world, then, in short order, there would be no humans either.
That is according to Chris Whittles of Shropshire, United Kingdom, who was in Kaysville last week for the Orchard Bee Pollinator Symposium & Expo.
“It’s a full stop,” said Whittles. “If we lose bee pollination, man is dead in three years.”
It’s a disconcerting claim, especially at a time when so much is said about Colony Collapse Disorder, a problem that has been decimating honeybee populations around the world.
Those who gathered for the symposium Whittles attended may have a solution.
“Honeybees are only one of more than 20,000 bee species on our planet,” said Kimball Clark, in a press release about the symposium.
“We’re not trying to pick a fight with honey bee pollinators,” he said. “We believe we can help them. We still have a lot to learn, but we are trying to supplement and diversify the pollination industry.”
Early results have been good. Clark, who calls himself a “native bee nerd,” reports that an organic cherry-growing operation in North Ogden more than doubled fruit yields with the use of solitary “mason” bees, also known as Blue Orchard Bees. Results were also positive in England, according to Whittles.
For some crops, growers look for increased numbers; for others, increased quality.
Both happened with the mason bees, he said.
A pear harvest was 100 percent larger, apples improved in quality from 70 to 95 percent, and had a storage life three months longer, and cherries grown in a covered environment had an increase of up to 300 percent, said Whittles.
Mason bees were named for the way they build mud compartments in their nests.
They don’t make honey, but are less aggressive than honeybees, work longer days in a tighter area, and go into a kind of hibernation in winter so they are easier to manage.
Clark learned about them when looking for a pollinator bee that wouldn’t sting his children. He began building “bee condos” and has become more involved in supporting the species, organizing the Kaysville symposium and taking on leadership roles in the Orchard Bee Association.
Some presenters invited to the symposium were unable to attend because they are government employees and were told they could lose their jobs if they attended during the shutdown Р even if at their own expense. Others presented their reports.
Presenters and panelists included beekeepers and growers, educators and scientists.
Gordon Wardell, a bee biologist, works for Paramount Farming Company in Bakersfield, Calif., overseeing 46,000 acres of almonds, pistachios and pomegranates. Each acre of almond trees requires two honeybee hives, at a cost of $150 to $175, to pollinate.
“There’s an evolution that’s happening,” he said.
For thousands of years, the balance between humans and bees and agriculture has worked.
“If the balance gets out of whack, somebody has to help bring it back into balance,” he said. “This is not something that’s insurmountable. Beekeepers have to be changers too. Beekeepers who keep bees the way their grandfathers did are out of business now.”
Researchers have found mason bees can augment harvests even if used together with honeybees.
More information is available at orchardbee.org.