In 70 countries from Brasil to Korea in December 2008, millions of fans of The Simpsons suddenly wised up to the worldwide disappearance of bees, when “The Burns and the Bees” episode hit their screens.
Homer’s initial response to Lisa’s news of this alarming epidemic was sarcasm: “Bees! Now who will sting me and walk all over my sandwiches.” His indifference remained undented by warnings of a loss of flowers, the so-called “painted whores of the plant world.”
As it dawned on our anti-hero that a world without bees means a world without honey, Homer was spurred to action. “Let’s go Lisa, we’ve got some bees to save.”
Meanwhile in Sydney, Australia, rooftop beekeepers are struggling to find homes for their hives.
Doug Purdie, Vice-President of the NSW Amateur Beekeepers Association searched high and low for a year until he found a community garden that would allow him to house his honey-makers.
Purdie says that in Melbourne, councils give funding for rooftop beekeepers, but in Sydney local governments “don’t really get that there’s an issue.”
“They think there will be hordes of bees stinging people, but that doesn’t really happen,” Purdie said from his newfound rooftop apiary at the PermaPatch Community Garden in Lane Cove.
“Bees can be a problem for people who have allergies, but the bees are not going out of their way to sting you. It’s usually if you do something silly that you’ll end up being stung. If you step on a bee or if you poke a hive with a stick then you are generally asking for trouble,” Purdie said.
According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, there are 6000 registered beekeepers in NSW.
Purdie says it costs about $400 to set up a hive and it’s a very rewarding and interesting hobby.
But bees are under threat all around the world from loss of habitat and from insecticides and diseases. Australia, at the moment, is the only place in the world that doesn’t have the varroa mite which is the biggest risk as far as disease goes.
It’s the only form of agriculture that is truly sustainable. All the bees use is pollen and nectar out of flowers, and from that they produce honey but they don’t produce any waste products.
“It was shown overseas that the more managed beehives that you have, the stronger the population is in resisting these things when they ultimately get to Australia,” Purdie says.
Already the Asian honeybee, a natural host for the varroa mite is spreading down the coast from Queensland. It poses a threat to agriculture because feral bee colonies which pollinate numerous crops will be wiped out.
“Anybody in agriculture who has a crop that’s reliant on pollination will have to employ a beekeeper to bring in hives for pollination, so the cost of food production will skyrocket,” Purdie says.