We are all familiar with bees, but have you ever given any thought to their vital role in human food production via their pollination activities?
A few ‘bee facts’
The common honey bee (Apis mellifera) lives in a hive colony which may contain over 50,000 bees. Typically there is only one queen bee in the hive at any given time and she can lay upwards of 1000 eggs per day.
The majority of bees within the hive are female workers and these bees have varying roles from nurse bees tending the young; guard bees defending the hive entrance and foraging bees which leave the hive and can travel many kilometres to collect pollen and nectar from flowers.
A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during each collection trip. A hive of bees will collectively fly over 100, 000 km in total to produce 1 kg of honey.
On returning to the hive, the pollen and nectar are converted into honey which is stored within the hexagonal array of waxy honeycomb. This honey acts as a food store for the entire colony of bees.
During summer, a worker bee may only live for several weeks, as their continuous foraging for nectar takes its toll. In winter, the bees can live longer in the hive as they tend to slow down (much like we do!)
It is widely believed that bees are responsible for about 35% of pollination of agricultural crops and without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yields of fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Consider that every third mouthful of food you eat is due to the collective efforts of our bees.
Worldwide, bees are under enormous environmental pressures from pesticides, parasites and unsustainable agricultural practices. At present, Australia is the only country free of the parasitic ‘Varroa mite’ impacting on bee population numbers. In the United States, China and Europe, bee populations have been decimated and the implications for agriculture and future food production are very serious.
So, how can you help save our bees?
+ Minimise our use of insecticides and herbicides in the garden.
+ Plant a wide variety of flowering plants
– Summer: Verbena, Marigold, Lavender, Bottlebrushes
– Autumn: Daisies, Nasturtiums, Westringia
– Winter: Camellias, Wattles, Hardenbergias
– Spring: Wisteria, Prunus species
+ Consider having a backyard bee hive. This is becoming more popular and now I have one in our backyard (there will be more on this!)
+ Buy local organic honey. Support local beekeepers.
Next time you see a bee buzzing about a flower, spare a thought for these tireless workers and the gifts they bring to humanity.
Most of the suggestions above are very achievable. Are you more interested in popping out to the garden to get planting? Or, would you rather head to the local farmers market and buy some delicious, organic honey?