Thursday, July 30, 2009

Photo provided by Rowan Jacobsen
Fruitless Fall: Book Review and Author Interview

Good morning, Pumpkinistas!

The July-September 2009 issue of California Agriculture magazine's article on native bee pollinators piqued my interest to learn more about bees in general. Consequently, I read Frutiless Fall, and wrote a book review and author interview for the Orange County UCCE Certified Master Gardeners' monthly newsletter which will appear sometime in the next couple of months. I wasn't aware of this but, Pennsylvania commercial pumpkin farmers, and growers of squash, cucumbers, and other cucurbits rely heavily on honey bees for crop pollination.

Here's an edited version for you:

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen, Bloomsbury USA, NY, 2008. Book review and author interview by Stuart Shim

A personal interest in beekeeping led Vermont author Rowan Jacobsen to write a timely and fascinating account of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colony collapse disorder (CCD) and its potential causes and effects on global agriculture and food production in 2008. Of particular interest, is his account of the importance of bee pollinators and the 2 billion dollar annual California almond crop, which also is the largest single market for out-of-state beekeepers, and represents 82 percent of world production. In fact, notes Jacobsen, providing pollination services to fruit, nut, and vegetable growers, has displaced honey production as the largest source of revenue for North American commercial beekeepers.

Jacobsen begins with a historical overview of honey, the honey bees and their behavior, followed by the identification of the first signs, then the potential causes and effects of CCD. Jacobsen gives an entertaining, fast-paced, educational and even-handed treatment of CCD.

I enjoyed and found useful the beekeeping, growing pollinator garden resources, including plant lists, in the appendices. Practical application of Jacobsen’s information and research is a highlight for potential readers of Fruitless Fall. For more information on Fruitless Fall and Rowan Jacobsen, please visit:

The author graciously responded to some questions about Fruitless Fall and his own beekeeping experiences on July 30th 2009:

SS: What was your favorite experience during the writing and research of Fruitless Fall, and why?

RJ: I’d have to say picking up my bees from Kirk Webster and driving back to my home (about two hours away) with them buzzing in the back of my station wagon. The hive entrances were sealed so they couldn’t get out, but the whole car was humming and, it felt very much like I was part of the hive.

SS: Do you have any plans for any additional agricultural or entomology-themed books? If so, what are you writing about?

RJ: In a way, yes. My new book touches on aquaculture, which is farming the sea. It’s about the importance of shellfish to our past and future. It comes out next month. You can learn more here:

SS: Have you come across any additional information or research that would allow you to arrive at more definitive reasons for the cause or causes of CCD since writing Fruitless Fall?

RJ: The paperback edition of my book comes out this week and includes some updates. There are no definitive conclusions yet, but nosema cerana has risen to the top of the most-wanted list. It seems to be the major killer in Europe, Australia, and Japan, where things are getting worse. Also, some new information has come to light that is very damning for imidacloprid. Here’s a good summary: The EPA is now doing a new review of imidacloprid-with results due in 2014!

SS: How are your bees doing?

RJ: My bees did great during the summer and fall that I had them. Then, one snowy November evening, a bear came and tore apart the hives and ate them. I'll be getting more, but only after I’ve got the electric fence in place!

SS: Thank you very much for your kind cooperation and assistance!

RJ: My pleasure, Stuart.