I often get asked:
“Why honeybees and not stingless native bees?”
“Do you get stung?”
“Don’t you get hot in that suit?”
“Do you get lonely working alone?”
“What do you love about beekeeping?”
Only beekeepers themselves can really understand the psychology of the addiction of beekeeping. But since these questions come up frequently, I might as well have a crack at explaining this strange phenomena called “Beekeeping”.
Q: Why bees?
They are, quite simply, keeping our planet alive.
All bees are pollinators, along with many other insects. However the honeybee has proven over centuries to be the most effective pollinator and the most resilient insect on the planet. Also, bees play a vital role in preserving biodiversity and ecosystem health and without them, many ecosystems would be altered or cease to exist altogether.
So what is “pollination”?
Pollination is a highly sophisticated natural reproduction process of flowering plant species. It involves the transport of pollen from the stamen of a male flower to the stigma of a female flower. (Now I am no botanist, but I have a beekeeping client who recently taught me how to tell a male flower from a female one using an ancient technique. Will share her secret later…)
The process of pollination is one of the most important in achieving optimised and reliable crop economics. (Beeaware.org.au)
Bees pollinate most of the crops we eat and many that feed farm livestock. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural production benefits from bee pollination.
Q: If you have your own vegetable garden, have you noticed the difference in your vegetable & fruit production if you have bees pollinating your flowering plants?
Honey and other hive products generate around $100 million per year in Australia. The contribution of honey bees to agriculture through pollination services is estimated to be 140 times this figure and was valued at around $14.2 billion in Australia in 2017.
Back to bees…A honey bee survives only in a colony, otherwise referred to as a super organism. Just as a human body functions as a single integrated unit even though it is a multitude of cells, the superorganism of a honey bee colony operates as a single coherent whole even though it is a multitude of bees.” (Seeley, Thomas D., “Honey Bee Democracy”).
The amazing thing about these insects is that whilst their body is delicate, their life is short and their enemies numerous, the humble bee achieves an enormous amount in the 3 – 12 weeks it is alive. They work tirelessly and effectively, moving through their various assigned roles feeding brood and their queen, defending the hive, and collecting nectar and pollen to take back to the hive, so that future generations of bees can thrive. And the bee is willing to die to defend the hive.
Even though throughout history humans and animals have persisted in disturbing the bees for the sake of the sweet taste of honey, they have continued to survive and adapt to constantly changing threats, climates and conditions.
But bee populations are under threat. Destruction of their natural habitat, intensive mono-crop farming practices, regular pesticide use, and pests and diseases are just some of the complex reasons driving a decline in bee numbers.
Without bees, our food security is under threat.
We need to protect our bees and help them thrive.
I hope that answers that question! ☺
Q: Why honey bees not stingless native bees?
Although Apis Mellifera (honey bee) is an introduced species in Australia, the majority of crops they pollinate have also been introduced and would struggle to be productive without honey bee pollination.
Many of Australia’s Natives bees are solitary insects. (See future blog on native bees). The native bee colonies that do produce honey (such as the stingless bees) are effective pollinators but don’t produce as much honey as the honeybee. (However keep an eye out for a future blog on native bees, as we continue to learn more about their unique honey properties).
So for me, I chose the Apis Melifera because of it’s superior capacity to pollinate an produce honey. But watch this space…
Q: Do you get stung?
Yes! I do. But only when I have done the wrong thing, such as not wearing full protective gear and…opening a box in the wrong weather, dropping a frame or otherwise disturbing them due to my own mistakes. The better you become at reading the bee colony’s temperament, the less you get stung.
Q: Don’t you get hot in that suit?
Yes, it can get very hot on a hot day. I always wear a headband to keep the sweat from dripping onto the bees and take plenty of water. And in Summer I try and work in the mornings and afternoons rather than in the middle of the day, to avoid the heat.
Q: Do you get lonely woking along?
Actually no, I love it. I talk to the bees and always find myself in the zone once I open up a hive. My whole focus is on reading the bees and assessing their health. Plus I love the….ahhh…the serenity ☺
Q: What do you love about beekeeping?
I love that they are, collectively, smarter and superior to humans. They will outlive our species. As we continue to destroy our shared environment, they will find a way to survive. They are more efficient, more self-sufficient, more resilient, smarter communicators, and far more adaptable.
There is so much to learn from them, and every time I am working a hive, I marvel at their incredible ability to function on a higher level than humans ever will.
Beekeeping is not a chore…not a job…it’s an endless learning journey and a privilege to be surrounded by such beauty and magnificence.