ONE IN EVERY THREE BITES YOU EAT IS THANKS TO OUR POLLINATORS. ABOUT 75 PERCENT OF THE CROP PLANTS GROWN WORLDWIDE FOR FOOD, FIBRE, AND MEDICINES RELY ON ANIMALS TO TRANSFER THEIR POLLEN.
“Ladybird Johnson was fond of saying “Where flowers bloom, so does hope”. I say “Where there are flowers, there is hope for bees. And where there is hope for bees, there is hope for humanity”.”
Lori Weidenhammer – Author, Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees,Vancouver-based artist originally from Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. Queen Bee, and Madame Beespeaker, reviving the tradition of telling the bees.
The sharing farm relies heavily on the support of our volunteers. Today I want to share with you about some of our often overlooked workers; we could not do without, our pollinators. Pollen is a fine powder, found in flowers, produced by certain plants when they reproduce. In order to complete fertilization, pollen must make its way from one flower to another. Since pollen cannot move on its own, it must rely on other methods of passage. Pollination occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower. Although some plant species rely on wind or water to transfer pollen from one flower to the next, the vast majority, almost 90%, of all plant species need the help of animals for this task. There are approximately 200,000 different species of animals around the world that act as pollinators. Of these, about 1,000 are vertebrates, such as birds, bats, and small mammals, and the rest are invertebrates, including flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and bees. In order to pollinate a plant, the pollinator must touch parts of the flower of the plant. Because of this, animals like bees, hummingbirds, and some kinds of butterflies are the best pollinators, because they get their food from the flower of the plant and so brush up against parts of the flower.
I want to pay homage to these incredible animals. Although there are many different pollinators on Earth, bees do the vast majority of pollination. Bees are certainly one of the most important pollinators in the plant world. From their buzz to their stingers, bees often inspire fear. Shunned as pests, these troupers lend nature, and us, a big hand. They never ask for a raise and will work for food, – the nectar and pollen that will be turned into our honey and their winter stores. Locally in BC, there are at least 450 species of bees.
Bees have a long, straw-like tongue called a probiscus that allows them to drink the nectar from deep within blossoms. Bees are also equipped with two wings, two antennae, and three segmented body parts (the head, the thorax, and the abdomen).
Pollen is picked up by bees on their furry coats, means that the pollen can then be transferred between plants, thus aiding the pollination process. Some bees collect pollen on their hairy bodies, and then carry it back to their nests on their hind legs. First, the pollen collects on the furry bodies of the bees. The bee becomes covered in pollen, and uses its legs to wipe the pollen from its body into a sticky mass, which now sticks to the inside of the back legs. The bee then uses its back legs to compress the pollen further and move the little masses of pollen into the corbicula otherwise known as pollen baskets, on the hind legs. Other bees carry pollen on the hairs on their abdomen.
The most abundant bees you will see on the farm are the bee and the bumble bee, however you may also see sweat bees, leafcutter bees, and mason bees. There are also many wasps and flies, even some flies that masquerade as bees. Native bees are more affective than honey bees at pollinating flowers on a bee-per-bee basis. Many native be such as Mason and bumble bees, will forage in colder and wetter conditions then honey bees. I have been privileged to have several opportunities to hear Madame Beespeaker, Lori Weidenhammer, most recently on the Sharing farm. I learned heaps of fascinating bee trivia and facts. She truly inspires me to love bees, even more than I already did.
As part of her talk, Lori took us on a walkabout on the farm where we caught pollinators in nets and then briefly put them in jars to identify them. Here is one of the bees I caught.
Wasps and Flies can be confused with bees.
Wasps or Bees?
Bees are adapted to collecting and carrying pollen so they have finely branched hair where the pollen gets trapped. These hairs make the bees look like they are wearing a tiny, fuzzy coat! Compared to wasps, bees’ body sections are more rounded than elongated. While wasps are sometimes unintentional pollinators for some plants, they only do so for flowers that produce nectar. Wasps, unlike bees, are not drawn to flowers by color and rely on few plants for nectar.
Fly or Bee?
We are all familiar with house flies but there are many kinds of flies, which do not look so familiar, and they are very common in our gardens. In fact, it is easy to mistake them for bees (or wasps). Flies have only 1 pair of wings whereas bees and wasps have 2 but try to count these while crawling among the sunflowers and clover.
Leslie Williams, the Farm Administer and Bee Keeper, apprenticed with a bee keeper and graduated Kwantlen’s Sustainable Agriculture Farm School Program. We have 20 hives on the farm, with approximately 10,000-20,000 bees per hive this time of year. A hive is a house, a place where bees live. It is a structure, usually man-made, that a colony calls home. The colony is the family unit consisting of a queen, workers, and—for a few months of the year—drones. In other words, a colony lives in a hive. We also have about 3 bumble bee boxes on the farm.
According to Leslie, This year was a pretty good year for our honey. Our honey is organic, raw, unfiltered, and unprocessed, and is multi-floral, that is, derived from a wide variety of nectar sources, chiefly blackberry, linden, maple, and phacelia.
In her role as master bee keeper, Leslie checks the hives regularly, harvest the honey, leads bee camp and soon she will wrap and cover them to prepare for winter.
There are more than 20,000 species of bees. Bees can be divided into two groups by their lifestyles: solitary or social. Despite the fact that the stereotypical image is of a bee living in a hive, only a few species of bees are social. Social bees share a nest, and divide the work of building the nest, caring for the offspring, and foraging for pollen and nectar. The principal social bees are the honey bee (not native to North America) and the bumble bees. In contrast, the vast majority of bees are solitary nesting (e.g., mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and other ground-nesting bees). They tend to create and provision a nest on their own, without cooperation with other bees. Beekeeping, or apiculture, is the practice of tending the social species of honey bees and their honey, which live in large colonies of up to 100,000 individuals.
In order to produce one kilo of honey, a bee has to perform 60000 flights. Mature honey bees collect nectar from plant blossoms. Nectar is 80 to 95 percent water and 5 to 20 percent sucrose (table sugar). As the bee transports the nectar back to the hive, a protein enzyme in her honey stomach, called invertase, breaks the sucrose down into the two simple sugars, fructose, and glucose. It has antibacterial and anti fungal properties. Honey will not rot or ferment when stored under normal conditions, however pure, raw and unheated honey has a natural tendency to crystallize over time with no effect on the honey other than colour and texture. After being extracted from the honeycomb, honey tends to crystallize much faster than if it were in the wax cells. If you’re unfamiliar with the molecular makeup of honey, then you may think crystallized honey is honey gone bad. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Crystallization is honey’s natural way of preserving itself; іt dоеѕ not at all mеаn that the honey іѕ ѕроіlt and іѕ no longer fit for соnѕumрtіоn. If hоnеу dоеѕ not сrуѕtаllіzе for а long time, ехсерt for thоѕе tуреѕ of hоnеу in whісh the natural сrуѕtаllіzаtіоn рrосеѕѕ gоеѕ ѕlоwеr (i.e. асасіа), that оftеn іѕ а сlеаr іndісаtіоn for hоnеу аdultеrаtіоn, dіlutіоn, еtс. Many honey users prefer it crystallized as in this state it is easier to spread on bread or toast. Indeed, some raw honey recipes can be easier to make with partially or fully-crystallized honey —and, the taste is richer. Although crystallized honey is acceptable for human use, bees can only use liquid honey and will remove and discard crystallized honey from the hive.
If your honey has crystallized, you can make it smooth and golden once again. (http://www.whitelakefarms.com/how-to-save-crystallized-honey.htm)
- Simply heat a pan of water with low heat.
- Remove the pan from the stove and place your honey jar inside. Be sure to take the lid off your jar before placing it in the warm water.
- Now, all you have to do is let the honey sit until it softens.
- Once the honey has come to a liquid state, put the lid back on and shake the jar. You may need to use an oven mitt or wrap the jar in a towel.
- It’s just as important to cool your honey slowly as it is to heat it slowly. You’ll want to place the honey back in the warm water, make sure there is enough water to reach the top of the honey line in the jar.
- Let the water and the honey cool together. If you can touch the water and it’s the same temperature as the room then your honey is ready.
A word of caution:You may be tempted to heat the honey faster or simply put it in the microwave, but high temperatures (over 118 degrees) can remove the vitamins and nutrients naturally found in honey. Also, heating and cooling too quickly can increase the crystallization process.
Only honey bees make beeswax, they are the only creatures that make their own home construction materials. When they need to create a place to raise their young or to store food, worker female bees make honeycomb, groups of six-sided cells. To make comb, the mature worker bees remove the bits of wax called “wax scales” from the undersides of their abdomen and chew and mold them into place. The production of beeswax is stimulated when there is a great supply of flower nectar such as when clover and alfalfa bloom. Bees do not build comb before it is needed. When honey is harvested, the wax can be collected for use as food, in products like candles and seals, in cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Beeswax has been used since the beginning of civilization. It has been found in the pharaohs’ tombs, in sunken Viking ships, and Roman ruins. Beeswax is virtually the duct tape of old, with thousands of uses and being virtually indispensable. Pure beeswax is solid at room temperature. It will have a putty-like consistency above 80-90 degrees F, and will melt around 145-147 degrees F. It never goes bad, but does get a powder called bloom on it when stored at cooler temperatures. A blow drier will remove the bloom, or you can use a soft rag to buff the bloom off. You can wrap it in plastic to prevent dust, dirt, and fuzz sticking to it.
Bees collect pollen in a pollen basket and carry it back to the hive, where it is a protein source for brood-rearing. Excess pollen can be collected from the hive. Although humans sometimes consume it as a dietary supplement, bee pollen may cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. Pollen is among the oldest food supplements used by human beings. The benefits of pollen were intuited by various civilizations and religions. Hippocrates considered that pollen assured a good health to those who consumed it and prevented the abrupt ageing and degradation of the human organism. Pollen is mentioned in the Holy Bible, the Talmud, and the Coram. Unfortunately, the healing properties of pollen were forgotten by the modern world. Nowadays, the pollen is an important part of apitherapy (a type of alternative medicine, which is growing more and more popular). The ones that practice this type of therapy claim that the pollen has numerous therapeutic qualities, even though there are not many scientific proofs in this respect.
The propolis is a sap or resinous mixture, which bees collect from trees buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. After that, the bees mix the resin with their saliva and other substances and the result is the famous propolis, also called bee glue. Propolis is used to strengthen the comb, as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive, and to seal cracks. Although propolis is alleged to have health benefits (tincture of Propolis is marketed as a cold and flu remedy), it may cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals. Propolis is also used in wood finishes, and gives a Stradivarius violin its unique red colour.
Many people, who are not familiar with the world of bees, believe that the royal jelly is a secretion of the queen bee. Actually, this amazing product is a glandular secretion of the nanny bees, which has the form of a gelatinous, pseudo-viscous substance, used in feeding the future queen bees – “a queen bee is not born a queen bee, but it becomes one due to royal jelly”. When the working bees decide that they need a new queen because the old one either is to weak or has been killed, they choose a few larvae and feed them with royal jelly. These larvae are position is special honey comb cells. This type of feeding determines the development of a typical queen bee morphology, including the development of ovaries, which are necessary for the reproductive process. During the first three days of life, all larvae are fed with royal jelly, even the working bees, and the drones. The raw royal jelly is not advisable to be eaten by people who are suffering from allergies or over sensitivity to bee products. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not consume it. There are many other contraindications to consuming royal jelly.
Many people don’t know that bees are not actually native to North America; they were introduced about 400 years ago. Beekeeping has been practiced in British Columbia for over 150 years. The first two honey bee colonies arrived by ship in Victoria in May 1858. Our native pollinators have been pollinating plants since long before that. Honey bees are social bees that live in colonies. The hive population consists of
- A Single Queen (one queen bee per hive – she is the mom of all the other bees. She is the only fertile member of the colony, and lays about 1,500 eggs a day during spring and summer.)
- A Few Hundred Drones (Male bees are called drones. Their job is to mate with queens from other hives. If they do get the opportunity to mate, they die immediately afterwards.)
- Thousands of Worker Bees (Worker bees are all female, and they do almost everything for the hive).
Honey bees are the only North American bees that make sufficient honey that we can harvest for our consumption.
Bees are very smart. Their brain is about the size of a sesame seed. It measures just one cubic millimeter. Their brains may be tiny, but they have larger brains and more neurons than other insects of similar size. A honey bee brain has a million neurons, compared with the 100 billion in a human brain. Nevertheless, researchers report, bees can recognize faces, and they even do it the same way we do. If You Swat, Watch Out: Bees Remember Faces.
Bees can identify and remember colours and landmarks. They can distinguish among different landscapes, types of flowers, shapes, and patterns. Bees can remember route details up to six miles over several days. They can conceptualize a map, determine the shortest distance between two points, and take a different route for their outbound and inbound journeys. They can navigate even in the dark. They are able to take on many different roles in their lifetime, each requiring different skills. They can distinguish harmful fungi from harmless ones. They can prepare medication (propolis) when harmful fungi are present. They are capable of abstract thought, decision-making, and planning. They also show an ability to count and an understanding of time. The foragers have to perform many tasks that require intelligence– they must find flowers, figure out if they are a good source of nectar, find their way back to the hive, and then share this information with the other foragers.
Turns out, bees have more complex cognitive and learning skills than we previously thought. Scientists from the Queen Mary University of London taught bees to pull string for food. These bees then went on to teach others to do the same thing. The skill eventually spread to a majority of the colony of worker bees. Watch video here: Quartz Media
And we can learn a lot about leadership from the beehive. Read full post at Diversity MBA Magazine.
Bumble bees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and agricultural crops. They are able to fly in cooler temperatures, damper conditions, and lower light levels than many other bees, extending pollination by several hours each day, making them excellent pollinators. They also perform a behaviour called “buzz pollination,” where the female bumble bee grabs the flower’s pollen-producing stamens in her jaws and vibrates her wings to give the stamens a good shaking — dislodging pollen grains. This behaviour is extremely effective in cross-pollinating berries, tomatoes, and peppers.
The sharing farm has 3 bumble bee boxes on the farm. See the mouse picture on the box in photo above. “It’s a kind of joke. Bumbles like to nest in abandoned mouse nests in ground.” according or our bee keeper, Leslie Williams. The Sunflower photos with 3 bees were taken early on a cool morning. These bumble bees are either sleeping or just waiting for the sun. Bumble bees sleep on or inside flowers as the temperature at the base of the flower or near the source of the nectar can be as much as 10°C higher than the surrounding air temperature.
Bumble bees are the only native bees that are truly social. They live in colonies, share the work, and have multiple, overlapping generations throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Bumble bees do make a small amount of honey, however not in sufficient quantities for humans to harvest. Just enough to feed the larvae and themselves for a couple of days during bad weather. Bumble bees do not need to store food over the winter period – i.e. they have no need for ‘winter stores’ as unlike the non-native, European honey bees, the bumble bee colony is seasonal. At the end of the summer, only the fertilized queens survive to hibernate through the winter. In the spring, she will found a new nest that eventually may grow to include dozens of individuals (occasionally a couple of hundred). Honey bee colonies should ideally thrive through the winter, and because of this, they need winter stores – the honey.
“Befriend native bees: give them a home: Wild bees pollinate what honey bees cannot”. Bee corridors, bee friendly habitat welcomes both honey bees and native bees to the farm. The sharing farm strategically plants specific plants for pollinators as wells as beneficial insects such as lady bugs and parasitic wasps.
Bees are looking for nectar and pollen to take home to feed their young. In the act of collecting these materials, they inadvertently transfer pollen from flower to flower, which results in pollination. It is a mutualism: the plants benefit from the bees and the bees benefit from the plants. Bees need three basic things: food (flowers), water, and shelter.
Flowers with bright colours are attractive to native pollinators. Bees see a different portion of the spectrum than humans. Their vision favours shorter wavelengths, so they can see ultraviolet light and the blue/purple colors very well. Things that we see as red, they see as black, so when in doubt plant flowers that are blue and purple. Yellow and white work as well. White flowers that have a strong scent are also attractive, especially to night-time pollinators. Different flower characteristics attract different types of pollinators. Plant variety. Provide forage plants with overlapping blooming times so that flowers are available to provide pollen and nectar throughout the insects’ flight season, or from early spring until late fall. Native bees and other pollinators come in many sizes, so it also is important to provide flowers of various sizes, shapes and colors. Native plants are often better for native bees, though there are some non-native plants that provide a rich source of nectar. However, many popular flower varieties are hybrids and have been bred for provide bigger flowers, more disease resistance and other traits humans enjoy in garden plants. However, sometimes hybridization reduces or eliminates the production of nectar and pollen, which leaves no sustenance for the pollinators.
Many bees nest underground, digging a tunnel in bare or partially vegetated, well-drained soil. Other bees nest in abandoned beetle burrows or other passageways. Some bees use tree cavities and snags (i.e., dead or dying standing trees) or excavate their nests within the soft central pith of stems and twigs, clumps of leaves, and fallen grass. Sadly, a human desire for tidiness often results in the planting or covering of bare soil, and the removal of snags and other suitable nesting places. Bees are also vulnerable to deep soil tillage or tree removal.
Attract bees to your backyard or garden
Bees are nature’s star pollinator, but few people realize their importance. Without bees, salad bowls and fruit platters would be bare and pricey. Virtually all flowering plants require animals for pollination, and bees are the hardest-working pollinators. Even self-pollinating crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, tend to produce higher-quality fruit when cross-pollinated by bees. Honeybees supplied by commercial beekeepers are responsible for pollinating more than 90% of cultivated crops.
Love those bees! Share your favourite bee photos in the comments below…
This blog post was compiled by Tamar Cohen.