The Benefit of Honey Bees
by New Agriculturist Online @ new-ag.info
Forget about honey, pollen and royal jelly. Just think of a world without beans, tomatoes, onions and carrots, not to mention the hundreds of other vegetables, oilseeds and fruits that are dependent upon bees for pollination. And the livestock that are dependent upon bee-pollinated forage plants, such as clover. No human activity or ingenuity could ever replace the work of bees and yet it is largely taken for granted. It is often not realized just how easy it is to help or hinder their effectiveness as crop pollinators nor how much is lost by their loss.
To United States agriculture alone, the annual value of honey bee pollination can be counted in billions of dollars. Bees pollinate about one-sixth of the world's flowering plant species and some 400 of its agricultural plants. Poorly pollinated plants produce fewer, often misshapen, fruits and lower yields of seed with inevitable consequences upon quality, availability and price of food. One of the few farm activities that can actually increase yields, rather than simply protect existing yields from losses, is to manage bees to encourage good pollination. The destructive effects of the varroa mite, loss of wild bee nesting habitat, low world honey prices, Africanization of bees and the use of pesticides are making conservation of wild bees more important than ever.
Wild bees need long-lasting, undisturbed nesting sites in sunny, relatively bare patches of ground with a diversity of nectar and pollen-rich plants nearby. The greater the variety of flowering plants, the greater the number of bee species that will be attracted. One of the major risks, to both bee and plant diversity, is their separation through increasing fragmentation of wild uncultivated areas. Without bees, many flowering plants fail to set seed and without flowering plants, there is no food for bees. Leaving field margins, ditches, roadside verges and woodland edges unsprayed with chemicals, and undisturbed, does much for bee conservation.
By definition, chemical insecticides are harmful but individual products vary greatly in their toxicity to bees. Pesticides may kill quickly or, worse, kill slowly. If not immediately killed, bees can carry the contaminated pollen back to the colony where it enters the food chain and kills many more. An insecticide may be harmless to the health of the bees but may nevertheless inhibit pollination of the crop by acting as a repellent. Careful choice of pesticides may do much to reduce harm but farmers, especially in developing countries, may have few options and, on the whole, the more targeted the pesticide to the pest, the more expensive the product. Biological pesticides, however, are relatively safe to bees.
Timing of insecticide application is also critical. Many degrade after a few hours and spray applications in the late evening, when bees are inactive, reduces the risk that bees will be affected. Where bee keepers are hired by growers to bring hives to an orchard or field for pollination, crop protection must obviously be the subject of agreement between both parties, and never more so than where GM crops may be involved.
The use of bees for crop pollination is a huge subject. Different bee species behave differently and different crops have different pollination requirements. This is a tough time for farmers but it is also a tough time for beekeepers. Anything that can be done to enhance the pollination effectiveness of bees will be good for bees, beekeepers - and farmers.
The job of the beekeeper
is more important
than ever. It is our responsibility to help
manage the bee population
to keep it strong
for future generations.
And you can help!
Go to Adopt a Hive
and find out how!
Beekeepers first sounded the alarm about disappearing bees in the United States in 2006. Seemingly healthy bees were simply abandoning their hives en masse, never to return. Researchers are calling the mass disappearance Colony Collapse Disorder, and they estimate that nearly one-third of all honey bee colonies in the United States have vanished. The number of hives in the United States is now at its lowest point in the past 50 years. What’s Causing Colony Collapse Disorder? Researchers think this Colony Collapse Disorder may be caused by a number of interwoven factors:
Global warming, which has caused flowers to bloom earlier or later than usual. When pollinators come out of hibernation, the flowers that provide the food they need to start the season have already bloomed. Pesticide use on farms. Some toxic pesticides meant to kill pests can harm the honey bees needed for pollination. Many pesticides banned by other countries because they harm bees are still available in the United States.
Habitat loss brought about by development, abandoned farms, growing crops without leaving habitat for wildlife, and growing gardens with flowers that are not friendly to pollinators.
Parasites such as harmful varroa mites bite the honey bees, spreading diseases and lay eggs in the honeycomb cells which infect and eat the honey bee larvae.
Fun Facts About Honey Bees
*There are three types of bees in the hive – Queen, Worker and Drone.
*The queen may lay 600-800 or even 1,500 eggs each day during her 3 or 4 year lifetime. This daily egg production may equal her own weight. She is constantly fed and groomed by attendant worker bees.
*Honey bees fly at 15 miles per hour.
*Honey bees' wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.
*Honeybees are the only insect that produce food for humans.
*Honeybees will usually travel approximately 3 miles from their hive.
*Honeybees are the only bees that die after they sting.
*Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approx 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S.
*Honeybees have five eyes, 3 small ones on top of the head and two big ones in front.
*They also have hair on their eyes!
*Bees communicate with each other by dancing and by using pheromones (scents).
*Honeybees never sleep!
*Honey is 80% sugars and 20% water.
*To make one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers, fly over 55,000 miles and will be the lifetime work of approximately 768 bees.
*A single honeybee will only produce approximately 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
*A single honey bee will visit 50-100 flowers on a single trip out of the hive.
*Bees produce honey as food stores for the hive during the long months of winter when flowers aren't blooming and therefore little or no nectar is available to them.
*Honey is the ONLY food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
*A typical beehive can make up to 400 pounds of honey per year.
*Honey never spoils.
*It would take about 1 ounce of honey to fuel a honeybee's flight around the world.
*Flowers and other blossoming plants have nectarines that produce sugary nectar. Worker bees suck up the nectar and water and store it in a special honey stomach. When the stomach is full the bee returns to the hive and puts the nectar in an empty honeycomb. Natural chemicals from the bee's head glands and the evaporation of the water from the nectar change the nectar into honey.
*Out of 20,000 species of bees, only 4 make honey.
*Although Utah enjoys the title "The Beehive State," the top honey-producing states include California, Florida, and South Dakota.
*A populous colony may contain 40,000 to 60,000 bees during the late spring or early summer.
*A honeycomb cell has six sides.
*Bees maintain a temperature of 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit in their central brood nest regardless of whether the outside temperature is 110 or -40 degrees.