Words Karen Locke Photos Honey Atkinson
Where ALL OVER THE WORLD
From the apple in our pies to the pumpkin in our soups, we have bees to thank for many everyday ingredients …not just honey. In fact, one third of the fruit and vegetables that we eat today, as well as nuts and many other flowers and plants, depend on bees for pollination.
Bees are one of a myriad of animals, including birds, bats, wasps, beetles and butterflies, called pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. Pollinators are vital to creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter. Without bees, many plants – including food crops – would die off.
The bee is one remarkable little creature. It would be hard to find any other species that achieves and contributes so much in their short lifetime. Educating our children about the role that bees play in our ecosystem, and inspiring them to love bees and nature, is not only life enriching for the child, it is also a great way to help ensure the environment will be protected for future generations.
ABOUT THE HONEY BEE HIVE
Honey bees live in huge colonies in groups of thousands. These colonies are extremely organized and each member of the colony has a special job to do. Honey bees are ‘super organisms’, which means that they are designed to operate together in a group. All of the bees work together in harmony to maintain their hive and make honey.
INTERESTING FACT: There are three kinds of bees living in a hive. One female queen bee, many female worker bees, and a few male drones.
Every bee is born into a specific role and spends its life serving its colony. Honey bees are led by the queen bee. It is her job to reproduce and create new honey bees to add to the colony. In just one day, a queen bee can lay as many as 1,000 eggs! The eggs are laid into the honeycomb and are taken care of by the worker bees until they are mature and can begin working.
The humble worker bees do a huge number of jobs. From cleaning around the hive, nurturing the young bee larvae, guarding the hive entrance, building honeycomb and regulating the temperature in the hive, the worker bee is multi-skilled and incredibly talented!
After the first few weeks of their lives spent as worker bees inside the hives, the bees then get their new duties as outside workers, collecting nectar, water and pollen for their colony, and fertilizing plants in the process. After just six weeks, the modest little worker bee dies.
INTERESTING FACT: Remarkably, honey bees must visit about two million flowers and fly 80,000 km (50,000 miles) to make only half a kilo (about one pound) of honey. That’s the equivalent of about two trips around the world!
Honey bees pollinate all kinds of flowers, including those of fruits and vegetables. Pollination happens as bees fly from flower to flower gathering nectar. When a bee lands on a flower, some of its pollen sticks to the bee, and when the bee flies to the next flower, it brings the pollen with it. As the bee travels from flower to flower, it spreads this pollen, helping the flowers to reproduce. Without pollination, plants wouldn't be able to grow and multiply.
HONEY BEES IN DANGER
Our food sources all around the world are dependent on bees, and in particular on honey bees. Considering that they’re also known as indicators of an environment’s health, it’s worrying then that honey bee colonies are in decline around the world. Billions of honey bees worldwide are mysteriously dying, many very suddenly in what is called Colony Collapse Disorder. The huge decrease in the honey bee population is a critical environmental issue because bees play such a crucial role in our ecosystem. It is estimated that one in three mouthfuls of food that we eat directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP SAVE THE BEES
While scientists don’t yet know exactly what is causing Colony Collapse Disorder, they do know that habitat destruction, invasive species and parasites, pesticides, global warming and other environmental stresses create risks and are surely contributing to the decline in honey bee populations. Thankfully there are lots of small but significant things that you can do to help save the bees…
1. Don’t use pesticides or chemicals in your garden
Some toxic pesticides meant to kill pests and weeds can poison and harm bees. While they might make your lawn look picture-perfect, they’re causing a lot of damage to the environment and natural habitats. So please, avoid using any pesticides or chemicals in your garden, and encourage family and neighbours to do the same.
2. Eat organic or pesticide free food
Under today’s conventional farming systems, financial gains are prioritized well and above the health of the environment. What modern farming sadly ignores is that one of the most important components of agriculture – pollinators – is suffering as a result. In contrast, organic farming practices use pollinator-friendly farming techniques, while respecting our soils and ecosystems. And as a bonus, it’s better for you and your family too!
3. Buy raw honey from a local bee keeper
Find a local beekeeper who can provide you with raw honey – either directly or through a farmer’s market. Not only will you be supporting local beekeepers, thereby encouraging more of them in your area, you’ll be treating yourself to honey that is so much better for you and your family! Raw, organic honey is unprocessed, unheated, free of chemicals and straight from the hive.
4. Keep small water basins for bees
Bees get thirsty too! By putting a little water basin out (such as a shallow dish with some stones in it for them to crawl on) you’ll be supporting your local bees, especially in the heat of summer.
5. Plant a bee-friendly garden
Honey bees collect pollen and nectar from plants and flowers as their source of food. Without plants that are bee friendly they cannot survive. Creating a bee and pollinator friendly garden is a great way to help children make a direct link between the foods we eat and the creatures which help to put food on our plate. There are a large variety of plants that can support the honey bee – Lavender, Sage, Thyme, Fennel, Sunflowers, Tea Tree, Honey Myrtle and Rosemary are just a few.
6. Build homes for solitary and bumble bees
Building a bug or bee hotel for solitary bees, native bees, bumble bees and other pollinators is a lot of fun and can be a beneficial addition to your garden. Given that humans have destroyed a lot of their natural habitat, and we keep our parks and gardens so neat, there is very few dead branches left lying around to provide crevices for bee nurseries. These insects need a safe place to hibernate during winter, take shelter during the rain and to hatch their young.
7. Become a sustainable bee keeper or apiarist
You can directly impact the health of your local ecosystem by becoming a sustainable bee keeper. In addition to the satisfaction derived from working with a hive, you will enjoy the added benefits of bee products such as raw honey and beeswax. Kids can also benefit in numerous ways from learning to keep bees. In the process of tending to hives and observing bee activity, kids learn about biology, agriculture, ecology, nutrition and business.
If you’re interested in becoming a bee keeper simply do a Google search for the local bee association or club in your community.
8. And finally, share what you have learned! The more people that are educated on the importance of protecting our bees, the better chance they will have of survival.
INTERESTING FACT: Bees have five eyes: two compound eyes made up of thousands of tiny lenses, and three very small simple eyes on the top of their heads.
SOME FOODS THAT ARE DEPENDENT ON BEES
Almonds, apples, apricots, avocadoes, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, cashews, cauliflower, celery, cherries, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, lemons, macadamia nut, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, soybeans, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, watermelon.