Part 1: Honey Bees
Dwindling Bee populations
Natural enemies like bears, yup apparently it’s not just Winnie the Pooh. “Although bears do like honey, they prefer to eat the bee larvae” (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association, 2016). Other natural threats include mites, but this can be controlled by the beekeeper.
Foul brood and Nosema have had devastating effects on bee colonies, and the worst part is not all broods react positively on available medication. Sadly, in some cases it is best to burn the whole hive and sterilises any and all equipment used. American Foul brood has wreaked havoc in the Western Cape bee populations.
It may not be much of a surprise to you, but we humans are posing a bigger threat to the Bees of the world than we might realise. Some of the contributing factors include Urbanisation, with ever increasing numbers and sizes of cities; it is making foraging for nectar, pollen and propolis harder and harder for the worker bees. Not only is the number of foraging fields decreasing, but the distance they have to travel from one field to the next is increasing.
An increase in population numbers also demands more aggressive agricultural practices. On the one hand, they require more ground for farms to grow food for the masses, which, again, decreases natural fields that bees used once upon a time for their collections. On the other hand, more aggressive farming, unfortunately include the increased use of pesticides. And unfortunately, the biggest, baddest of them all seems to be all the rage. It is fairly new, so there is limited confirmation, but “a recent study by the insect research charity Buglife and the Soil Association (in Europe) has claimed that the decline in the bee population has in part been caused by NEONICOTINOIDS” (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association, 2016). It is a coating on the seedlings, and as the plant grows, it spreads throughout the plant, but bees do not die from coming into contact with plants that was grown from these seeds, it spreads into the nectar and pollen that bees eat, so it could kill an entire colony at once!
What to do/ who to call when a colony un-expectedly moves in with you
- Bee safe, get yourself and any other people and animals away from the swarm
- Do not attempt to remove them yourself if you have no experience with beekeeping and/or swarm removal
- DO NOT KILL THEM
- Your best bet would be to try and locate the nearest possible beekeeper, this way, all three parties can benefit from the removal of the bees
- Just remember, bees are not aggressive by nature, and will only attack when they feel their queen or colony is being threatened
At home bee keeping
Although bees gather and use honey for their own consumption, every hive is also able to produce ‘surplice honey’, which is the honey that beekeepers harvest, and that end up in our households.
If beekeeping is something you would be interested in, there are a few things you will need to acquire before you start; First off, you will need to do a little background research, you need a basic understanding of the dynamics of a bee colony.
Secondly, you could either build a beehive for your soon to BEE neighbours, or you could buy one from a number of places on the internet, either new or second-hand (PS, keep reading, I’ll be sharing some very helpful websites during the post).
Thirdly, it is important that you choose a sensible spot for your beehive. This is more important than you might think, there are a few important points to be considered. First and foremost you should find out if beekeeping is allowed in you municipal area, if so, great! After that you can check off the following important criteria:
- Shaded areas
- Away from:
- Inquisitive children
- Animals, especially horses an chicken (bees do not like their smell)
Next, you will probably need some bees for that brand new hive… The best time to start according to the experts is in the beginning of summer (from September if you are in a summer rainfall region). There are a few different ways in which you could acquire your colony.
And lastly, believe it or not, but the bees won’t be doing all the work. There is some crucial equipment that you will need to ‘work’ your hive. Basic tools include;
- Protective clothing
- A hive tool
- A smoker
- A brush
Benefits and products of bees
Maybe you thought I was being dramatic when I said your life depends on reading this post, but the fact is that bees are the only insects that produce food for us humans. In fact, bees are responsible for the pollination of flowering plants, without which they will not produce fruits and vegetables. Thus, without the bees coming in to work every day, the available food would decrease by close to two-thirds of current production, many plants will eventually die out as well.
Bees also produce a ‘lil something called HONEY. Honey bees have two stomachs, one for eating and the other for storing nectar, collected from flowers or water. They process the nectar in their stomachs. Once they get to the hive they regurgitate it into the honeycomb cells, and fan off any excess moisture with their wings… then TADA! HONEY is made, (Ontario Beekeeper’s Association, 2016). Ok, so maybe it’s not that easy, the bees actually add enzymes to preserve the nectar as honey in the hive.
Beeswax are one of those ‘by-products’ that secretly probably gets used more than the main product. It is used in things like crayons, candles, envelope seal, wax thread, treatments for wood, steel, and shoes, cheese wax, and the list goes on and on.
Propolis, also known as the ancient healer. Remember a hundred years ago a certain toothpaste brand had and advert with a talking beaver telling us that there is propolis in our toothpaste? Well it turns out that is just one of the many medical benefits of propolis. Other health benefits include; a natural antibiotic, fights infections, can assist in treatment of minor burns, support the immune system, to name a few.
How can you help save the bees?
- You could ensure that you have a flowering garden for the bees when they come to visit you
- Support the Beekind project; check them out at http://beekind.co.za/
- You could adopt a hive on their site.
- Other countries like Australia, Canada and UK also have adopt a hive projects which you could support.
- If you are a grower of flowering plants or a farmer (i.e. fruit and veg farmers) you should find out as much as possible about better alternatives for pesticides.
- As a farmer you could also “hire” bees from a commercial beekeeper to pollinate your flowering trees and plants.
- Beekeepers should inform neighbours about their bees
Ontario Beekeeper’s Association. All About Honey. 2016. http://www.ontariohoney.ca/kids-zone/bee-facts/ Accessed 03 April 2016
Global Healing Centre. What is Bee Propolis? 10 Great Uses. 2016. http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/what-is-bee-propolis-10-great-uses/ Accessed 03 April 2016