An apiarist (honey beekeeper) for over 40 years, I am the creator and owner of Gogo’s Bee Company. My passion for beekeeping all started with the pursuit of my beekeeping merit badge as a Boy Scout. I found honeybees to be fascinating insects. My interest and fascination continue to grow, and I now manage both my own apiaries (bee yards) and several backyard apiaries for those who like to produce honey on their own property but do not want to manage honeybee hives. In addition to consulting and hive management, I also create and market hive equipment and honey.
A colony is made up of one queen (fertile female), 30,000-60,000 thousand workers (sterile females), and 300-400 drones (males). The honeybee is the only insect that produces food consumed by humans. Working hard in its short lifespan of six weeks, one worker bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey. Flying about 15 miles per hour, the worker bees from a colony must visit over two million flowers to make one pound of honey.
The honey, wax, and propolis produced by these hard-working insects all have health benefits. Honey is thought to help with everything from sore throats and digestive disorders to skin problems and hay fever. Produced out of 8 wax glands on the underside of their abdomen, the wax produced by honeybees is used in candles and a variety of health products.
Propolis, a natural resinous mixture produced from collected parts of plants, buds and exudates, is used by honeybees to coat the inside of the hive and seal small openings so pests cannot enter the hive. Both honey and propolis have antiseptic properties and were historically used as a dressing for wounds and a first aid treatment for burns and cuts. The natural fruit sugars in honey, fructose and glucose, are quickly digested by the body, making it a great natural energy boost for athletes. One additional benefit of honey is that it keeps really well; the natural anti-bacterial properties allow it to last for thousands of years without spoiling.
What is happening to the honeybees? Beekeepers across the United States lost 43.7% of their honeybee colonies from April 1, 2019, to April 1, 2020, according to preliminary results of the latest annual nationwide survey conducted by the University of Maryland-led nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership. While I have not seen that high of a loss in my own colonies or in those I manage, the decline is still higher than my bee colony owners or I would like.
The decline in honeybee population is a result of several factors, but the main one is the viral spread caused by the varroa mite. The mite attaches to the honeybee, much like a tick would to us, and feeds on the fat reserves of the bees. Although other pests, such as wax moths and hive beetles, can affect the hive, they usually only show up if the hive is weak as a result of viruses inflicted by the varroa mite. Loss of quality feed has also added to the decline in honeybee population. There are fewer flowers for bees to visit due to loss of wildflower habitat and overuse of herbicides.
Bees are responsible for the pollination of most crops grown as well as wildflowers. There are around 4,000 species of native bees in the United States. Surely these native bees can handle the job of pollinating all these plants. Well, that is a tall order when you look at the way we grow crops. To supply fruits and vegetables to our growing population, large fields are dedicated to producing single crops. These fields of berries, fruits and vegetables are too large for only the native pollinators to pollinate efficiently. This is why beekeepers are requested to bring in hives to have a temporary home during peak pollination time for a successful crop. Honeybees are the only bees that can be moved from location to location in colonies of 30-60 thousand bees. Hives are moved around the county to follow the need for pollination of different crops This also helps the hives survive and stay healthy to be moved to areas where there is more food. As such amazing pollinators, much of the ecosystem relies on honeybees. Without their hard work, crop production such as almonds, berries, apples and various types of fruits and vegetables would be reduced drastically.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Honeybee colonies can be split to make new ones and honeybee breeders are working to develop breeds that can fight pests without the use of chemicals. The total number of colonies each year remains close to the same because of the splits being done.
If you are looking to help the honeybee, reduce your usage of pesticides and herbicides. Planting bee friendly native flowers, such as coneflower, milkweed, and sunflowers, is also a great way to help feed and sustain the honeybee population. You can visit the Xerces Society website or the U.S. Forest Service website to learn about the best pollinator species to plant in your area. Purchasing local honey and honeybee products also helps to keep small apiarists in business.
About Sustainable Environmental Consultants
Established in 2008, Sustainable Environmental Consultants is part of the Wright Service Corp. employee-owned family of companies. Since our inception, we have endeavored to be a leader in providing innovative solutions to better the planet through our three divisions of sustainability risk management, agricultural compliance and engineering, and erosion control. We provide a full range of environmental services needed by food companies and their agriculture supply systems. To learn more, follow on LinkedIn.