Kansas is buzzing with changes needed to support bees

Alice Mannette
Pratt Tribune
Jorge Garibay and Chris Humistan collect honey on Dr. Jack Mull's 400 acre game preserve in Sterling where Garibay built 16 hives.

On Feb. 5, The Kansas Rural Center held a Pollinators on the Plains conference. The virtual event covered a range of pollinator topics, including beekeeping methods and strategies, regional pollinator-based community initiatives, the intersection of pollinators with farming and ranching and the impact of pesticides on pollinators.

Sarah Red-Laird, the executive director of Bee Girl, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon gave the keynote address. Red-Laird, who is also Northwest Farmers Union president spoke of utilizing regenerative practices in her beekeeping operation and the intersection between bees and grazing lands.

Sarah is a beekeeper, university-trained bee researcher and pollinator conservationist. Ever since she was a young girl, she has interacted with bees – calling them the love of her life.

While she was at the University of Montana, Red-Laird helped train bees to sniff out landmines. What troubles this bee enthusiast and most of the speakers at the conference, is the disappearance of many bees.

“It’s harder and harder for beekeepers to keep their bees,” Red-Laird said. “The problem with our bees is Parasites and disease, pesticides, climate change and nutrition.”

She also explained how much of our rural landscape is disappearing, making it harder for these industrial insects to survive.

She explained how by just having a strip beside the road of pollinator flowers, weeds and trees would help these insects flourish. In addition, she spoke of the importance of sunflowers and how their pollen is good for these little creatures, as is diverse cover cropping. But most of all she said, we must eliminate chemicals.

By using regenerative principles, Red-Laird said, “We get very, very happy bees.”

Chemicals

Daniel Raichel, staff attorney at the National Resources Defense Council Pollinator Initiative explained to the group about the harmful effects of neonaticide on pollinators.

“Us beekeepers report losing about 40% of their (colonies) each year

4000 species are native to the U.S. all of these bees are critical to the functioning of these ecosystems.”

According to Raichel, the Rusty-patched bumble bee is the first be on the endangered species list.

Not only do pollinators pollinate more than 70% of the worlds food, they help make it beautiful by pollinating flowers as well.

“They provide a tremendous amount of free crop services,” Raichel said.

But a chemical was introduced into the environment a few decades ago that is decimating this buzzing worker bee – neonaticide or neonics for short.

Neonics kill bees,” Raichel said.

Because of the substances harmful tendencies, both the European Union and France have placed numerous bans on the insecticide. Connecticut, Maryland and Vermont have also placed bans on the chemical.

Not only does this chemical harm pollinators, it ends up in the water streams.

According to Raichel, neonics do not do too much good for killing invasive pests. He said lawn care services and farmers need to find ways of growing food that harness the natural powers of nature to address pest problems.

It’s buzzing in both Manhattan and Kansas City

Both Manhattan, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri have instituted pollinator gardens throughout their respective cities. The pollinator parks - or pockets - in Manhattan are city-run, while the ones in Kansas City are run by a private organization.

“We want to Increase pollinator species, decrease invasive species and increase ecological awareness,” said Alfonso Leyva, the park planner for Manhattan.

Leyva, who is also on the board of Kansas Wildlife, hopes to expand pollinator gardens throughout his region.

Healthy land need healthy bees

For California-trained beekeeper Jorge Garibay, the founder of North American Pollinator Alliance believes bees can flourish, but only if they are given proper housing and nutrition. And that nutrition, he said, does not include sugar water.   Leo Sharashkin, Ph.D. raises bees on 600 acres of land in Missouri on his private honeybee sanctuary.  and is the editor of “Keeping Bees with a Smile” and founder of Horizontal Hive  

As for proper housing, Garibay uses Sharashkin’s bee house designs, These off-the-ground houses prevent diseases and help the insects thrive during both summer and winter. He insulates them with sheep wool.

“You can keep bees naturally," Sharashkin said. ”Its very beneficial for bees to have honey above them then on the side. 

Bees nest at one end of the box and store honey at the other end of the box. This makes much more peaceful bees. If you do not disturb them they are much more peaceful. I don’t disturb my bees during the summer. Pull honey in oct or November.

Both Garibay and Sharashkin understand the need for proper habitat and care of the little buzzing creatures.

Garibay said the bee industry is overcrowding the insect and not giving them a variety of foods to eat.

“Supplemental feeding is wrong,” he said. "If its not good for humans why would you want to put it in a beehive. Sugar syrup is not honey."

Although agriculture is an interruption to the bee’s natural habitat, if the landed is treated naturally or regeneratively, the bees can thrive.

"We need to understand that bees are not dying off in this country, nor in the rest of the world, but they are running out of habitat," Garibay said. "We need to provide habitat. We need to plant annuals and perennials, and we need to be planting trees for the century.”

KRC will host Local Food Systems & Farm to School in May and Soil Health to Human Health during the summer.