Bees are in trouble. Beekeepers are reporting extremely high die off rates the world over. In parts of China, they make do without bees. Farmers have been hand pollinating pear trees for years. This labour intensive method involves the dipping of paintbrushes or feather dusters or even a chicken feather into pollen, then brushing each individual blossom. There are a number of reasons for this. Financially, monoculture appeared an attractive idea. Pears need up to three varieties to cross-pollinate naturally. One variety of pear paid more than others. This led to farmers planting one main crop and choosing the human pollination method. As the cost of human labour increases in China, this current practice makes less and less financial sense. However, the overuse of pesticides in these pear orchards has led to a toxic environment for bees and other pollinators. For years beekeepers have been calling for a ban on a variety of insecticides called neonicotinoids. The European Commission proposed two year suspension on the use of these bee harming pesticides across Europe failed in March. Other problems for the honey bee include the Varroa mite, a kind of bee HIV originally transferred from Asiatic bees (immune to it) across other species. The only area where bees are not yet infected with the mite is Australia. Honey is an amazing substance, for food and medicine. Manuka, a New Zealand honey, helps with ulcers. All honey is antiseptic and great for cuts and burns. This golden nectar is an irreplaceable ingredient in the kitchen. Perish the thought of a world without honey. On a simple level, we can all do something to promote the well being of bees and other pollinators in Ireland. Scatter wild flower seeds in part of your garden, or on disused ground whilst walking. Leave areas of weeds unstrimmed. If you are a city dweller, plant bee-friendly flowers in window boxes. Use natural growing methods. Robert Ditty of Ditty’ Bakeries, is an internationally renowned Master Baker, part of the GFI network and also an enthusiastic beekeeper. In a recent conversation, he told us Saint Patrick’s Day is the day when beekeepers traditionally check their hives and when mating flights begin. Last year, reported Robert, temperatures were over 20 degrees Celsius on 17th March. This year it was a lot colder, but we won’t dwell on the weather. He spoke of the hardiness of native Irish black bees – they will still be industrious even on cold and rainy days. They don’t like pesticides! Harmful chemicals interfere with navigation systems and the little dances they do to communicate with each other when they find a patch of blossom. In worst scenarios, pesticides are fatal. For years, scientists pondered on how bees were able to fly. Just to let you know the answer: it’s all down to the double vortex created with the motion of their wings. They are one of nature’s little miracles. Right now bees need all the help they can get. Pretty flowers everywhere wouldn’t be a bad investment for bees – and ourselves.