February 2007 map showing states affected by the honey bee collapse disorder. Map courtesy MAAREC.
Honeybee colonies used for pollinating commercial crops are dying off at an unprecedented rate. More than 1/3 of the commercial bee colonies across the country perished this past winter and many were reported without dead bees present — a sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (hives are found with honey, larvae, and the queen intact, but with no bees).
Bees pollinate most of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts, that we rely on for food, as well as alfalfa for livestock feed. Without them, our diet would consist of rice and cereals. And if bees pollinate coffee bushes, we are really screwed…
Enter The Great Sunflower Project, a volunteer-based study founded two years ago by SF State University Professor Gretchen LeBuhn. To participate, home gardeners sign up online and simply plant the Lemon Queen variety sunflower seeds in their backyards (or balconies, etc.). Once the sunflowers bloom, gardeners monitor bee activity and report their findings. By tracking bee populations across the United States, LeBuhn hopes to determine what kinds of environments bees prosper in.
The Great Sunflower Project has over 90,000 participants already this year, and with summer just beginning, now is the time to plant some seeds of your own!