Bee bombing on Irish American Road

Bee bombing on Irish American Road

Bee bombing on Irish American Road

It’s a rite of spring. In search of pollen, honeybees fly from their hives to forage for nectar.

Hundreds of bees took flight from Nan and Sean Stovall’s Warre hive last Saturday.

It would be their last run.

Oblivious, the five-eyed foragers beat their wings 200 times per second. All female, the worker bees flew up to 15 mph to gather nectar for the hive-bound queen and her larva.

“After breakfast on Saturday, as my husband and I were planning our day, spray equipment showed up at the side of our house with full arms extended and pesticide belching out over the field,” said Nan Stovall.

The Stovalls lease part of their property to a farmer. He sought to destroy the blue-green aphids that can ravage alfalfa fields. Last year he planted the crop on the lot that housed the Stovall’s bees.

The Stovalls ran to cover their hive with a wet sheet, hoping to keep the rest of the bees inside. Sean Stovall called the farmer to ask about the pesticide.

“The bees out doing their priceless jobs were surely dead by the end of the day,” said Nan Stovall. “They weren’t coming home.”

And, under the circumstances, it was better they did not, she explained.

“If bees exposed to toxic sprays reenter the hive they deliver contaminated pollen and nectar to the larva and maybe even the queen,” said Nan. “That would doom any chance of recovery.”

The farmer apologized.

“I knew about your hive, but I’ve been so busy,” he said – too busy to give notice that he’d soon douse the field with pesticide, most likely chlorpyrifos.

Meanwhile, Sean Stovall had little luck getting information. The farmer said he knew nothing about pesticide’s toxicity.

“I’m not sure anyone checks the land before they spray,” said Nan Stovall. “They do a scorched earth preemptive attack and nuke the fields. They’ve always done it that way and obviously, they always will.”

“And because they continually spray here, there are few natural predators,” she added.

Natural aphid predators include ladybugs and green lacewings.

“There’s no way left for nature to fight off an aphid infestation,” said Nan Stovall, a retired veterinarian.

That evening the Stovalls moved their hive to a safer place, they hope. Dandelions proliferate nearby.

“Bees love dandelion pollen,” said Nan Stovall.

Hours later, Sean Stovall reported that the beehive and its occupants appeared intact.

The Stovalls hope to see bees carrying pollen into the hive.

“I’m not sure what to think about this calamity,” said Nan Stovall. “It happens everywhere in America every day in farm country.”

Around one hundred crop species feed 90 percent of the world. Honeybees pollinate 70 of them. Fewer bees could mean no almonds, less coffee and, ironically, less alfalfa hay to feed cows.

Honeybees are in trouble. Over the past few decades, their population has declined by about 30 percent a year. Parasites, pesticides and habitat loss threaten them with extinction.

“Killing all the food-producing insects flies in the face of good farming practices,” said Nan. “By killing bees, we hurt ourselves and the planet. I’d like people to know that bees are a hard-working key to our survival.”