by CHRISTINE REID
Special to All Around Hays
These days, nearly everyone knows that something very bad has been happening to the honey bees. It’s estimated that for each of the past five years, approximately 30 percent of managed honey bee colonies have been lost to mysteries like colony collapse disorder, a syndrome where the bees become disoriented on their way back to the hive and die.
What people may not fully realize is how critical the honey bee’s role is to our food chain. It’s widely believed that every third bite of food that we eat has been pollinated by bees. While some animals, like bats, and some insects, such as flies, wasps and butterflies, also pollinate plants, the honey bee is considered one of the best pollinators in the world. Honey bees are vital to the agricultural industry. Some of the crops that require honey bees for pollination include almonds, apples, apricots, carrots, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons…and the list goes on.
Honey bees are also important because of the honey they make. One of nature’s most perfect foods, honey contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidant compounds. Being antimicrobial, it never spoils. In fact, honey that is thousands of years old has been found preserved in jars in ancient tombs, still edible.
Beekeepers work with bees for a number of reasons, honey being only one of the things that motivates them to maintain hives. Some people set up bee boxes in their backyards to help pollinate their garden. More and bigger flowers, vegetables and fruit result from frequent honey bee pollination. Just like teenagers, though, bees don’t just ‘hang’ at the house. They often have a two- to three-mile radius in which they fly and forage for pollen and nectar.
Many people fear bees unnecessarily, focusing on bee stings. Honey bees are only going to go after someone who is too near their hive, perhaps within 20 feet of the entrance, depending on the type of honey bee. Just a few bees will come toward you at first, then more if you don’t leave. However, when a bee is gathering pollen, it is only interested in that, not in attacking someone. There have been some cases where people were badly stung, usually when they were mowing or weed-eating too close to the bee hive or nest. Sometimes the people knew the bees were there but didn’t realize they needed to take proper precautions. If there is a bee hive or swarm in an old shed or tire on your property, get help from authorities. Don’t try to move or destroy the hive. Almost always, it can be relocated without incident.
While scientists have not yet found a definitive reason for the alarming loss of honey bees, they suspect that a combination of factors are causing bee deaths. Beekeepers Bob and Denise Benson, of the San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers, noted in a recent seminar that increasing pesticide and herbicide use is one problem, along with a rise in parasitic mites, new viruses, fungal diseases, inadequate food supply and loss of habitat.
They also described the stress that bees experience as they are trucked all over the country to help pollinate plants on thousands of acres for commercial growers. Because many farmers don’t have year-round crops to feed and maintain their own hives, they have to bring bees in from other states. Unfortunately, the Bensons pointed out, the bees may then be exposed to pests and diseases which could potentially spread to different parts of the country. The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers give many talks in the community to help educate people about honey bees and also, with monthly meetings at the Hays County Extension office, provide valuable information and support to local beekeepers.
While it may seem like the average person can’t do much to help the honey bee, there are some simple steps that everyone can take. One easy thing that people can do is to buy local honey. That ensures that you have a delicious sweetener that is unprocessed and, in turn, the purchase helps beekeepers continue to keep bees. Another thing to keep in mind is that since most pollinators have many of the same needs, helping honey bees will also help butterflies, hummingbirds and other birds and insects.
6 steps to a honey bee-friendly garden
• Plant herbs, wildflowers, heirloom flowers and other native plants and trees
• Plant five or more of the same flower in one area as it helps bees target them easier
• Flower colors that particularly attract bees are white, blue, purple, violet and yellow
• Have things that bloom at different times of the year and/or have long blooming times
• Provide a source of water in shallow dishes, bird baths and ponds
• Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides and use organic products only when necessary. Try to hand weed and encourage beneficial insects
Check out www.nationalhoneybeeday.org for more ways to help the honey bee
Become a Bee Wrangler
The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers meet the second Wednesday of each month. The group of hobby and professional beekeepers gather from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hays County office of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, at 1253 Civic Center Loop in San Marcos. For information, call 512-393-2120.