Honey bees, faced with declining populations as a result of pesticide use and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), will soon find themselves pampered residents of a specially designed, half-acre bee garden in California.
Otherwise known as the Honey Bee Haven, this bee-centric resort is the brain-child of the University of California (Davis campus) Department of Entomology and Häagen-Dazs, makers of world-famous ice cream.
It's hard to imagine two more disparate entities, but the goal - to encourage planting pollinators and other wildlife-friendly plants in back gardens, fields, roadsides and other "waste" lands - is part of an urgent effort to rescue the humble but vital honeybee. Along the way, wild bees, butterflies, birds and other denizens of nature will get a boost, too.
Using $65,000 of a $125,000 Häagen-Dazs donation, entomologists at the UC Davis Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility will transform a 100-foot by 200-foot section of land into a pollinator paradise. Aimed primarily at giving the Laidlaw bees a vacation spot, though other bees will undoubtedly visit the facilities, the bee garden will ultimately be used as a living laboratory to establish the preferences, pollination rates, nutritional needs and natural feeding behaviors of honey bees.
Open to visitors and planted with a variety of seasonal, indigenous, hardy plants like Echinacea, lavender, rosemary and hyssop, the garden will also be a superb resource for gardeners and amateur beekeepers who want to observe bee preferences and behavior with an eye to creating their own bee gardens. The garden is expected to be the first of many pollinator gardens at UC Davis.
The garden will be based on designs submitted by the public. The submission deadline is January 30, 2009, and submissions must include a site plan, planting plan, maintenance program and construction cost estimate, all for $65,000 or less. Planting plans should confine themselves to species that provide forage for honey bees, as well as a bee-accessible water source and environmentally friendly walkways for visitors. More design specifications and lists of bee-appropriate plants can be found at the UC Davis Depart ment of Entomology Web site.
The winning design will be announced in February (2009), and the winner(s) will be given recognition via an onsite plaque and a year's supply of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. The real winners, however, will be the bees.
Honey bees pollinate more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, from cantaloupe to strawberries, and are such an integral part of agriculture that Albert Einstein once predicted their disappearance would be followed by man's within a few years - a hypothesis no one wants to test.
In recent years, United States' beekeepers have reported losses of up to 40 percent. In France, the situation is even more disconcerting, with 90 billion bees lost over the last decade. Reports from the rest of Europe and the UK are not much better.
Bee experts cite a number of causes for honeybee decline, including pesticides, diseases, parasites, stress, and climate change. Another cause is malnutrition. Urban sprawl, which converts pasture to housing, recreation or shopping centers, reduces bee forage and makes bees more susceptible to disease, just like malnourished humans in third world countries.
In addition to its donation, part of which will support continuing research into creating a more healthful honeybee climate, Häagen-Dazs has also created an educational Web site at http://www.helpthehoneybees.com - all part of its introductory campaign for Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream.
Some may see the whole shebang as nothing more than an egregious advertising campaign for a new ice cream flavor, and perhaps it is. I prefer to view it as "hitting the sweet spot" in the American grower's (and consumer's) psyche. Awakening the population to the possibility that, without man's help, the honeybee - and then man - may become extinct is the first step down a long road toward rescuing the environment, and ice cream isn't the worst flagship I can imagine.
Sound off, and let us know what you think.