This started out as a comment over at The Crusty Chicken; but it kept growing, and got to comment-clogging proportions. So I moved it here.
Basically, Ruchi sent out a plea for some good news to cheer her up; things looking just a tad depressing out there these days. We are, indeed, scrod, in many ways.
But, Ruchi, I do have a very nice piece of happy news for you (and I suppose everybody else, too.) I haven't written about this event elsewhere, been kind of saving it up.
I have about 150 apple trees; 30 years old; grafted them all myself, on random seedling standard rootstock. (And for those horticulturists out there who are shaking their heads and asking "Why??!!" - I had excellent reasons; now borne out perfectly.)
Last year; Spring of 2008, I went out to see how the bees were doing. I'm sure everybody here is aware of the Colony Collapse Disorder problem. There has been loads of media coverage, all heading towards "This is it, then, we're all going to die." All our food will disappear! All our professors are clueless! (no comment, there...)
Like any orchardist, I've watched the bees every year. Most years for the last 20, my apple trees have been full of wild European honeybees; many many thousands.
It depends on the day, of course; on a calm, warm, sunny day, the bees are hard at work. If it's cold, windy, and cloudy- they may still be there, but in much lower numbers- if the whole flowering season is stormy, apple orchardists worry about poor pollination cutting the crop.
Last year, on a coolish but calm and sunny day, with the orchard in full bloom- I watched 4 apple trees, for about 15 minutes, and couldn't find a single bee- of any kind. Not only no honeybees, but no bumblebees (we have about 5 species, I think); no carpenter bees, and none of the tiny wild ones that you overlook when the tree is buzzing. Not one bee. Not even a bee-fly.
(click on pics for bigger view)
That got me pretty worried. We've had other years where the honeybees were down- but the wild bees were always abundant. From 2003-2006, we'd let a beekeeper place around 10 hives on the farm; he got basswood and clover honey; we got a little honey for ourselves, and the apples were loaded with bees. But in 2007, he couldn't afford the gas for the travel anymore, and pulled his hives.
I made a point of looking the next day. No bees. Understand, now- I was really looking hard for any bee. And finding- zero. I'd never had that happen before, in 20 years. And I looked the next day. On the third day, I did see a couple bumblebees, and one of the tiny ones. In 15 or 20 minutes of searching- an abysmally low number of pollinators.
At that point I got distracted by some emergency or other, and was not able to keep tracking the bee behavior in the apples. I was pretty sure we were going to be toast, crop-wise. For most of the spring, I was not figuring on the apples for any real food, or money that year. I thought there'd be a few apples; but nothing like a crop.
And- I was wrong. We had a huge apple crop; maybe our biggest, though it's hard to compare them, because our 30 year old standard trees are still dramatically increasing their yield, year by year.
This is one of our Golden Russet trees, in 2007; in 2008, the crop was much heavier, probably at least double.
Somehow, Ruchi, the apples got pollinated.
My strong belief is it was the wild bees, and other insects; they just weren't flying on the 3 days I looked, but somewhere in the week and a bit pollination window, they must have had a day they liked, and they got the work done- just fine.
There's actually an article today in the NYT kind of suggesting this "might be possible" - since it looks bad for the honeybees, the author says:
At present, wild bee populations are too small, too few and too far between to take on the task of pollinating our crops. That, of course, is why fleets of domestic honeybee hives must be trucked in to do the job. But if the wild bees were provided with habitat of the right kind and in the right geographic arrangement, they could achieve pollination both reliably and effectively.
You may notice that the writer is excessively pessimistic - on all points. At least here- where we use no pesticides, and always keep habitat diversity and complexity high, as a matter of good practice.
Gosh. It works. Not in some distant future- last year. Somebody might want to tell the Times...
So, Ruchi. Does that help? :-)
A good part of the lesson, I think, is that the mainstream media is now in a doom feeding frenzy- it's the trend. So where they were all denying doom 6 months ago; now they all want to be in the forefront; and have a slight tendency to expand the doom quotient in their stories now.
Nature can find a way- if we let it.