The Impact of Landscapes on
Bee Health and Survivorship
by Marla Spivak
A summary of a presentation at the State Conference last
One of the strands of the web of problems facing
honey bees is environmental (insecticides, herbicides/
fungicides, and flowerless landscapes) which affects honey
bee nutrition, which in turn impacts the ability of the bee to
combat viruses and pathogens.
Pollen contains vitogellin and lipids, which favorably
impact gland development, which is passed on to the larvae
via bees’ brood food, impacting the immunity, health and
survivorship of bees. And when combined with nectar
in the form of honey, pollen can not only up-regulate the
detoxification and immunity genes in Apis mellifera but also
turn on genes to make P450 enzymes, which metabolize
Honey bees digest pollen, with some ability to detoxify
pesticides it contains, before passing it on to larvae as brood
food. The larvae of wild bees, by contrast, feed directly on
the pollen balls provisioned by the mother bee.
We need foraging areas for bees to detox!
Instead of good, clean bee food we have acres of
lawns and monocultures (bee deserts) which are treated
with a variety of chemicals. Honey bees, wild bees and
other pollinators are reduced to feeding on scraps. Marla
suggested selecting flowers on which one sees bees to
plant in our gardens, interplanting lawns with low growing
flowering plants than can be mowed (e.g. creeping thyme)
and planting flowering cover crops in fields in winter, e.g.
borage, calendula, echium and cuphea.) It is not only the
quantity of pollen this is important, but also a diversity of
sources of pollen.
A flowering bee lawn not only supports pollinator health
but also reduces the intensive use of water, fertilizer and
mowing. Marla showed a slide of the root systems of native plants compared to lawn grass: the depth and complexity of
the former by comparison was dramatic.
Marla made reference to herd immunity in humans
(i.e. comparing the extensive spread of a virus when some
people get vaccinated v the limited spread when most
getting vaccinated) and herd immunity for bees. i.e. if only
some colonies are treated for varroa, the mite and the viruses
spread, v treating most colonies and containing the spread of
Marla concluded with a description of the UMN Bee
Squad, which is a group of UMN students who mentor
backyard beekeepers, educate the public on wild bees,
promote bee-friendly pollinator plantings, and offer a
beekeeper service for homeowners and businesses. In this
last service, in return for the woodenware and an annual fee
of $1000, the Bee Squad will provide, setup and maintain
the colony, and share the honey with the owner. She showed
an impressive list of companies who participate in what is
called there Hive-to-Bottle program, arguing that it was not
only good exposure for businesses with a green platform,
but also led to a discussion as to what kind of forage the
bees needed to be healthy and in some cases, a change in the
plantings made within the vicinity of those customers.
The Bee Squad also provides a site at which backyard
beekeepers can join a national effort to other data about
varroa and gain access to a varroa test kit: beesquad@umn.