7th Aug 2019 READ IT

The Importance of Bees

Bee is for beautiful

Let’s talk about bees! It’s a topic that is close to my heart as I keep bees at my home in England and am very fond of them.   The collapse of the bee population is a well-known problem and very concerning because of all they do for our ecosystem.  Talking to my farm manager who has helped me to set up my hives, has been fascinating and I wanted to share with you some of what I learnt.

This time of year is a particularly busy one for bees as they seek out lavender plants, bluebells and any other sweet flowering plant in order to pollinate.

Pollination

I am sure most of you know that bees are our main pollinators. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of one plant to the stigma of another. This aids fertilization, which then produces seed, which is picked or spread either artificially or naturally by the wind and birds.

Incredibly, one third of all the food we eat actually depends on the honey bee. We could even go as far to say that bees are one of the most important parts of the food chain. They help produce various fruits and vegetables such as avocado, cherries and many others. Even the meat we eat is dependent on the pollination process, as birds and cattle alike eat the pollinated plants, seeds and berries. This then filters into our milk and cheese and all products that are produced by the animals that eat the plants pollinated by the bees. Bees also help to pollinate plants such as cotton and flax which are very important in the production of apparel.

Fun fact 1:

Honey bees are the greatest dancers!  In order to share information about food sources, they do a “waggle dance.”  This involves moving in a figure of 8 and waggling the body in the direction of the food source.

The decline in bee population

Colony collapse disorder is the name given to the decline in the bee population.   Whilst there is no one reason that can be pinpointed, the increase of pesticides and herbicides used in the farming industries are undoubtedly having an adverse affect. While many bees die during mass sprayings others are affected secondarily. If they do not die during spraying, their immune systems are often compromised, making them more susceptible to disease.

Monoculture is also causing a decline in the bee population. The cultivation of a single crop in a given area is generally considered unnatural. The reason bees are having a hard time with monoculture is that large areas of land and hedgerows are cleared to plant a single crop. This means bees don’t have the option of hopping from one plant to another allowing for cross-pollination and they suffer from the loss of habitat. A scarcity of food and nesting areas means they often leave the area. The increasingly warm climate is also confusing the bee population as it means that flowers are blooming earlier in the season and also dying earlier. This throws the bees’ clocks and means they pollinate for a shorter period of time.

The monetary value of bees

Bees are a huge driver for the economy. It’s hard to pin point an exact amount as we can only really value bees that are kept rather than wild but it’s estimated that in the US alone that honey bees and wild bees contribute about $25 billion to the market and the sale of honey that we eat adds over $500 million (Source agri.gov, 2016).  In the UK that figure is about £1 billion and £200 million in retail sales. (source NAO 2009)

Fun fact 2:

Queen bees can live for up to 5 years.  Drones are the male bees whose purpose is to mate with the new queen.  Come winter however they are kicked out of the hive!

What can we do to help the bee population?

  1. Let your garden grow wild and plant lots of bee friendly plants such as lavender, rosemary, hawthorn and crocuses.
  2. Buy organic local honey to keep up the demand. Honey is lower on the glycemic index than sugar and sweeter so you need less.
  3. Become a beekeeper!
  4. Be bee friendly and learn about their world so you and your children don’t get scared when they are near.
  5. Avoid pesticides in your garden.
  6. Create a bee bath – some water and pebbles will attract bees

Top tip: If you ever see a bee in your house who is not moving or looks weak, mix some water and sugar and place it next to it.  This will help the bee to regain strength and get back to its pollinating.