I’ve always been apprehensive of insects. I don’t think that’s uncommon, either - there’s something about them that makes people’s skin crawl. Over the past few years, though, I’ve made an effort to learn more about them, and their vital role in the world around us. They are incredible, diverse, and sometimes seem other-wordly. I’ve slowly but surely become less and less squeamish of them (but don’t test this out on me, please!)
No insect has held my fascination quite like the honeybee. And, at MegaFood, I’m not alone! In celebration of Earth Day, MegaFood is focusing on honeybee populations - education and understanding of these complex creatures is vital for their ongoing survival, as well as ours! Our company just so happens to have THREE employees who keep bees. Naturally, we reached out to each of them to share insight into the importance of healthy bee populations, the threats they face, and what we can do to help!
Many thanks to the following bee enthusiasts for providing their insight:
Kevin Lamberg, George Stevens, Matt Harris, and Leslie Paine.
Let’s start with some fun facts.
Did you know…
- Bees communicate to each other. For example, food source distance is indicated by the number of turns in a wag-tail dance that is made within a given time. (Kevin)
- Honeybees do not hibernate in winter. They gather in a tight cluster around the queen and keep their wings constantly moving to create a temperature of about 80 degrees in that particular part of the hive. It’s good to be queen. (George)
- Honey is good for you! It is full of B(ee) Vitamins! (Matt)
- When honeybees take a trip out to collect pollen, they only visit one type of flower per trip. (Leslie)
There are also some common misconceptions about bees that are worth clearing up.
- “If they’re near us, they want to sting us, right?” Wrong! You actually have a far greater chance of tripping over your own two feet than getting stung. Most honeybees are female, and though they can sting if they feel threatened, doing so will actually kill them. These incredible insects work their entire 35 day life for one purpose - to care for their family. They provide for the queen and raise all her young by gathering and delivering pollen and nectar - they’re not out to hurt you! (George)
- Speaking of stinging...male honeybees do not have stingers - only the females. (Matt)
- Many people assume that pesticide use is the main reason for colony decline. Although pesticides are not helpful and should certainly be avoided, there are many factors to consider! (Kevin)
Why, then, is the bee population in decline?
There are a variety of opinions on the subject.
- One of the primary contributing factors to the decline of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor). Hive populations are smaller because Varroa mites target the larvae and open the bees up to viral and bacterial infections. (Kevin)
- There is no simple answer. Certainly the broad use of pesticides by commercial farmers has hurt the population. Global climate change is also bringing growing populations of disease, beetles, and mites up north where they could not survive when it was colder in the winter. Another well known killer of honeybees is residential insecticide and herbicide use. Having a Fenway-Park lawn looks great, but those chemicals go further and last alot longer than people think. (George)
- Monoculturing. According to Scientific America, “By planting crops in monoculture [vast plots of only one crop], we’ve increased the scale of flower patches so much that a honey bee colony can’t effectively search across many patches: they’re stuck in just one. That patch blooms for a short period of time, and then the bees have nothing else to eat. So instead of letting the honey bees move themselves around on a scale of several miles, we’re forced to truck ailing colonies across states. This is terrible for the bees: too much stress and poor nutrition make them more vulnerable to pesticides and diseases. As a result, we’re losing around 30% of our bee colonies each year, and we may soon be at the point where there aren’t enough bees to go around.” (Leslie)
The truth of the matter is ‘what's happening to our bees’ is all of this, and more….
Interesting, yes. But why should you care?
All of our experts had something very similar to say:
- Pollination is the main reason because 1/3 of all food produced worldwide needs the bees to grow crops. Of course having a honey crop cannot happen if we do not maintain the honeybee population. (George)
- No Bees = No Food. (Matt)
- No bees also equals no honey, and raw honey is very medicinal, not to mention their role in food crops! (Leslie)
What can you DO to support your local honeybee populations?
A lot, actually!
- Individually we can all reduce the amount of pesticides we use on lawns, gardens, and flower beds. If you absolutely have to put a product on your vegetables, put it on the leaves or base of each plant. Those are usually the parts of the plants that get eaten by pests. The honeybees and other pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies only gather nectar and pollen from the flower or blossom. (George)
- Support your local Apiary! And be wary of pesticides. (Matt)
- Create a bee-friendly habitat in your yard by planting diverse flower gardens, or by leaving a portion of your land unmowed so that they can harvest pollen from the native wildflowers that grow there. (Leslie)
- If you keep bees, leave enough honey for them to get through the winter. Feeding them sugar water in the fall to build their stores won’t keep them healthy long-term. Also, make sure you treat them for Varroa mites, as all hives are now infected. (Kevin)
Into the Hives
A few members of MegaFood’s Culture Club got up close and personal with George’s 4 hives to learn even more about the fascinating honeybee. They truly couldn’t beelieve what an intricate and interesting world lay beyond the hive. Take a look for yourself!