Friday, August 09, 2013

GMG's Friday Find: The Buzz About The Bee Crisis

There has been new research addressing the decline of the honeybee, both here and in Europe, reporting an estimated 10 million beehives worth $2 billion have been wiped out over the past 6 years. Scientists at the University of Maryland and the U.S.Department of Agriculture have identified a witch's brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating the pollen that bees collect to feed their hives.  The bee population is so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country's surviving colonies to pollinate one California almond crop, which supplies 80% of the worlds almond market.  Bees pollinate 1/3 of all the food we eat that comes from flowering plants and trees. The search is on to find a solution for the honeybee crisis.

One may wonder what to do to help.  Not everyone, of course, has the ability to raise bees.  I had an opportunity recently to visit with Dennis DeCola, a local beekeeper who has been tending honeybees for 12 years. With 50 hives all together, 30,000 bees in each hive, a one time hobby has turned into a full time job. It was fascinating to learn about the honeybees, their hives and behavior.

Courtesy Dennis DeCola
A bee hive consists of  the queen, of course, and believe me, she is definitely the queen.  In one hive she'll have 3,000 drone bees with which she mates once, then the drone dies.  One and done as they say.  The drone bees have no stingers and no way of feeding themselves, and in the winter when the queen is not mating they are forced out of the hive.  No male dominance here.

All the worker bees in a hive are sterile females who share the specific jobs necessary for the hive.  They include foraging for nectar and honey, guarding the hive, cleaning the hive, nursing the baby bees, attending the queen, cleaning other bees and disposing of dead bees, building the honeycomb, capping the honeycomb, pollen packing, nectar ripening and repairing the hive.  A woman's work is never done in the hive, in fact, they often work themselves to death--literally!

So how does one become queen?  She only lives for 3-4 years and then it's time for the other females to decide which little larva will become the next queen.  She is fed "royal jelly" which allows her to grow much larger.  She leaves the hive only once to find a drone, then returns to the hive to begin her privileged life, being tended to and mating, laying up to 2,000 eggs per day.

Not only do bees pollinate our much needed fruits and vegetables, they also provide us with incredible honey and beeswax.  With so many bees collecting nectar for their food, there is still plenty left over which beekeepers collect.  The flavor of the honey depends on the foraging habits of the hive and consuming local honey is a dietary benefit in many ways, from controlling allergies to increasing immunity.  Dennis sells his honey, about 2,300 pounds a year, to a local farm to table restaurant, keeping the local honey nearby.  Honey can last forever if properly sealed, and is easy to liquify with warm water if it crystalizes.

Courtesy Whole Foods
The benefits the honeybees provide us is huge.  This picture of a Whole Foods produce section without foods that honeybees pollinate says it all. Imagine 1/3 of our produce completely gone.

We support Dennis and all the beekeepers that help facilitate the environments that keep honeybees healthy, and hope that soon solutions are found to ensure that nationwide our honeybees are not lost. 

And if you think you might like to house a hive or two, contact a local beekeeper and see if your property would be suitable.

The bees need all the help they can get.  Happy beekeeping!

Garden Media Group


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