You know me– I’m a fan of all sorts of bugs, so of course I’m given to wonder about what the bees might be doing. We’ve got lots of fruit trees blooming here in Seattle, and even on the sunniest, warmest days, there’s barely a bug on them. The crabapple trees in my parents’ backyard used to be alive and buzzing with bees (and other flies) on just such a day, so the “silent trees” are really kind of disturbing to me. And I don’t think it’s due to an absence of bees in the city– Seattle has a lot of urban beekeepers, so there’s bound to be a hive somewhere in the neighborhood, right? Perhaps not.

But the short answer to the question posited by this week’s haiku comic might be “California”. It turns out that a big part of the Business of Bees is leasing out the hives to pollinate California’s almond crops, so a lot of beekeepers hit the road to get in on the biggest payoff available in the current apicultural climate. As it turns out, the manufacture and sale of honey is more of a by-product for most commercial beekeeping operations– their big business is selling pollination services in the spring, and then “pasturing” the bees during the summer, a time when honey can be a secondary source of income. Of course, “hobby scale” operations are an exception– I know several backyard beekeepers who don’t give a rip about California agribusiness, and raise bees for personal satisfaction & honey.

We tend to think of honeybees as an endemic facet of the tapestry of nature, but most honeybees in the United States are about as wild as horses. They were introduced by Europeans a few centuries ago, some of them went wild, but the vast majority of them are domesticated, and the focus of rather intense husbandry efforts. By now, I think we’ve all heard something about Colony Collapse Disorder and the impacts it’s having on bee hives, but part of the reason that no one has yet successfully nailed down what’s causing it is that there are so many variables. It it some sort of herbicide toxicity? Genetic flaws arising from lack of gene variation? A side-effect of some sort of pesticide agent intended to prevent mite attacks or fungal infections? Or complex interplay of seven or eight factors that aren’t entirely understood?

But the good news is that pollinators aren’t completely going away, so the struggles of apiculture don’t entirely reflect the global state of pollen transfer, although it’s certainly dire for human populations due to the link between commercial crop pollination and the practicalities of feeding 7 billion people. Our friends the flies are responsible for quite a lot of wild pollination, although we don’t regard them with much esteem.

I have a poet recommendation for you this week, but I think I’m going to go ahead and get the comic posted, and make a follow-up post a little later today. I’ll let you know when it’s available! UPDATE: It’s available! This week’s poet recommendation is Kobayashi Issa— I wrote a little something about him here.