Val over at Cincinnati Locavore has written about a really interesting study called The Great Sunflower Project.
All over North America during the summer of 2008, participants will be monitoring honeybee activity on wild sunflowers that they have planted in their gardens. The group conducting the research sends out the wild sunflower seeds (it has to be a specific type of sunflower for the study) for participants to plant, then at certain times during the summer participants will watch the sunflower to log the amount of time it takes for five bees to visit. Participants send their data to the Great Sunflower Project, where the data is tallied to see where bee activity is health and where it is not.
I know that the media has only jumped on the colony collapse disorder bandwagon in recent years, but my father - who farmed his whole life - voiced his concern about disappearing bees from the mid-1980's until his death in 1999. His worry and concern passed to me, and I've tried to make sure that there are plenty of pesticide-free, bee-friendly flowers and plants in my garden.
Observations I made during the summer of 2007 escalated my concern about the welfare of the honeybee. I saw plenty of bees visiting my garden, but I began to notice that some of them seemed sluggish, as if they'd been drugged or on an all-night bender. Some acted as though they were in pain, rubbing their little legs around their heads and eyes. Still others landed on flowers and then simply forgot how to fly away again, as if paralyzed. I'd see them late in the evening - long after they should have gone back to the hive - sitting on a petal or hanging on a stem, and they'd still be there the next morning, covered in dew.
I know my neighbors already think I'm nuts for squatting on the sidewalk near a bed of clover giving pep talks to the little guys, and for cheering them on as they buzzed around the bee balm, foxglove and campanula in my garden, so it will come as no surprise that I've signed up to participate in the Great Sunflower Project. I can hardly wait to tell the bees about it!