Honey bees often get a bad rap amongst humans who are nervous about being stung by a bee. Anyone who has been stung knows how painful and uncomfortable it can be and there are people with life threatening bee sting allergies.
What people are often unaware of is that honey bees are not at all aggressive by nature. They only sting when they feel their hive is in danger or when provoked (for instance, being swatted at during a picnic). In fact, death follows for a honey bee who has stung, so it is in their best interest to keep their stinger as long as possible
Honey bees live in organized societies with clearly defined roles. Everyone knows about the queen bee, of course. But did you know that the queen bee is the only female in the hive who is able to reproduce, and is able to do so until her death, whereas the male bees who mate with her die shortly thereafter? Queen bee, indeed!
Many people do not realize that honey bees play a very important role in the production of many of the crops that we depend on. Honey bees are the largest group of pollinators and are responsible for pollinating roughly one-third of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts. For instance, almonds are completely dependent on honey bees for pollination in the United States.
Berries, apples, avocados, melons, carrots onions...all of these are brought to us through the efforts of honey bees’ pollination. Without them, our diets will suffer and it will be increasingly difficult to get our vitamins naturally.
Honey bees are also vital to our economy. Their pollination of our crops contributes $15 billion to the United States economy ($215 billion worldwide) every year. They carry an enormous responsibility for both our physical and economic health.
The declining population of the honey bee is an unfortunate trend that began in the mid-1990’s. Scientists believe several factors have led to this event, often referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. Parasites, migratory stresses, various viruses, new pesticides that are especially toxic to honey bees and loss of habitat have led to honey bees abandoning their hives and dying off at unprecedented rates.
What can we do about this decline? Great question! Individuals can take several steps to slow this decline and give honey bees an environment in which they can thrive. The most important step is to stop using harmful pesticides in gardens and on lawns. There are natural remedies that can serve a similar purpose without damaging the environment or harming honey bees.
Honey Bee Haven also recommends planting clusters of different plants that will provide food for the honey bees throughout the year, as well as maintaining a clean source of water on your property. Trees and bushes will also provide a safe place for honey bees to build their nests.
Of course for you overachievers you can become a beekeeper right in your own backyard! This positive new trend has seen such a surge in popularity. The American Beekeeping Foundation has created plenty of resources on their website to help new beekeepers get started.
Getting started is relatively easy. An aspiring new beekeeper will need a hive (which can be built or purchased), a smoker, a hive tool, and some sort of sting protection, such as gloves and veil (or a beekeeper suit, if so inclined). Of course, you will also need some bees! There may be a local producer in your area, or they can be ordered by mail if needed. Each new hive will require about 12,000 bees to populate it.
Other organizations, such as Bee Informed, continue to conduct research on the best practices for maintaining your new bee colony. This research is critical to the beekeeping community efforts to rebuild the bee population that has been lost. Helping to establish new bee colonies will not be the only benefit to your new beehive though. You will also find yourself with fresh raw honey and beeswax for yourself and any lucky neighbors you would like to share with. Helping the environment and fresh honey for your tea, what could be better?
Honey Bee Haven
American Beekeeping Foundation
United States Department of Agriculture
Without honey bees food supply & economy would take big hit
The Importance of Bees to Our Food Supply
Natural Beekeeping in Your Backyard
Laura Holt, for Agrilicious!