In the late 2000s, you couldn’t throw a honey dipper without hitting someone proclaiming, “Save the bees!” This was during the height of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when beekeepers would lose as many as 60% of their hives every winter. Millions and millions of worker bees would inexplicably call it quits, leaving their queen and her hive without enough food to survive the winter.
This put a tremendous strain on American beekeepers, but it also sent shockwaves through the worlds of agriculture and environmentalism. Suddenly, it became clear that we were at a real risk of losing honey bees for good. So, why were people so worried?
“Honey bees are kind of the canary in the coal mine.” – Julia McGuire, vice president of Iowa Farmers Union
Honey bees need floral diversity, nectar, pollen and water to survive, which means they do best in places where there are a variety of easily accessible plants growing. If they’re struggling to survive for even a single year, it’s a good sign that the soil, water, air and plant life are out of whack. Weak, nutrient-depleted soils require more pesticides to grow crops in, and they’re more susceptible to wildfires, droughts and floods. Nearly two decades ago, bees were warning us that our farmlands weren’t fit to live in – even for an insect.
Three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
There are many different ways to talk about the foods that bees produce, and they often get overblown. No, we would not be doomed to starvation if bees went extinct. But for us to provide a healthy diet for everyone on the planet, pollinators, especially honey bees, are essential. The dollar value of crops that rely on pollinators every year is in the hundreds of billions, and were they to disappear, farms and local economies would dwindle all around the world, especially in developing countries.
If you want the raw facts, head over to Wikipedia’s list of crop plants pollinated by bees. Then, click the “Pollinator impact” header. This shows you the crops that would all but disappear without honey bees: kiwi, watermelon, squash, and macadamia nut, to name a few.
But that’s just scratching the surface: bees are an “essential element in the production of meat and other animal products” according to the UK-based Api:Cultural. Bees pollinate the plants that become feed for cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, and even commercially raised fish. So while bees don’t directly feed animals – except for the occasional bear – they are an important part of how we raise animals for human consumption.
So, exactly how much do we need bees?
It’s hard to say. But it’s even harder to imagine life without them. You can support bees and other pollinators by purchasing local honey made by American beekeepers, planting a pollinator garden, or donating to PACE: Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education, which conducts leading research on pollinators.
There are two parts of Pollinator Awareness Week: conservation and conversation. And while we would never stop someone from planting a pollinator garden, supporting local beekeepers, or even becoming a beekeeper, this week is when we all need to be talking the talk about how our tiny striped friends. So, while we’ve blogged about pollinators and even Pollinator Awareness Week in years past, this year’s blog is all about how you can help spread the word in your community.
- Don’t Overexplain.
Everyone has that slightly kooky aunt or uncle who’s more than happy to explain everything that’s wrong with the world and how they would solve it. A few minutes in, and even the politest among us start tuning out.
While there are many factors affecting pollinators – economic, political, ecological, chemical, ethical – your friends and family don’t need to understand them all. Just focus on one, and how it has affected you personally. For example:
“I never realized how many foods bees help produce. Can you imagine if we just didn’t have almonds or watermelons anymore all of the sudden?”
- Focus on the local.
If you or your friends aren’t agriculturally inclined, pollination can seem vague and abstract. Try talking about how bees and pollination have made a difference in your life or community. For example:
“Ever since I stopped using pesticides in my yard, I still hardly ever see any bugs, but I have so many more flowers nearby. The bees must love coming by.”
- Make it about them.
Yes, you’re trying to open someone’s eyes to the larger world around them, but people tend to be self-centered. While most people don’t think about bees that often – and, god forbid, might even be scared of the little cuties – they’re probably emotionally invested in something that bees help produce: honey, flowers, fruit, vegetables, nuts — or even jobs. Try using that topic as a wedge to show how pollination affects your friend directly. If they realize something they love depends on pollination, they’ll be that much more likely to advocate for it. For example:
“I feel like this neighborhood used to have a lot more wildflowers. You ever wonder what happened to them?”
“Have you ever noticed how there’s suddenly almond everything? Almond yogurt, almond milk, almond flour? Turns out that’s all because of bees. They pollinate every single almond that comes out of California.”
“Can you believe that farmers have to bring in millions of bees to help raise enough crops? It’s crazy how much we rely on them.”
Those are the basics, but the most important thing is to share your genuine love of bees and pollinators. That enthusiasm is always infectious. And, if none of the above work, try sharing some local honey. Sweets have a way of getting to people.
Yes, it sounds bold, but we have big ambitions for our Harvest Reserve honeys. They’re how we can literally save American honeys by preventing them from going to waste or being blended and filtered into typical mass-produced honeys. Not only are we protecting these unique flavors, we’re also bringing them to a wider audience instead of letting them go to waste.
While most people are well aware of campaigns to “save the bees,” these campaigns have made huge progress and today, honeybees are largely OK. (Though there are still many threats to bees – both domesticated and wild – being researched today.) However, beekeepers in the U.S. are more threatened than ever.
Beekeepers who keep their bees in one location with a variety of local pollen sources can often have healthier hives, but this is less lucrative than driving around the country and selling pollination services to farmers. By buying honey from local beekeepers, we help give them a reason to keep their hives local, while encouraging more new beekeepers as well.
Occasionally, when a local beekeeper is hit with an unusual weather pattern like heavy rainfall, drought or unseasonal weather, their bees will produce a honey that they just can’t make anywhere or anytime else, all because of what was in bloom. These exceptional honeys have flavors that are too distinct for mass-market, filtered honey companies and their limited production usually means no one outside of that beekeepers’ hometown gets to taste them. If they’re lucky, a honey love might discover a special honey at a local farmers’ market, but most people never even get the chance.
Thanks to our relationships with American beekeepers, we’re in the unique position to bottle lots of local honeys and share them with local honey lovers. Whenever a truly remarkable honey comes our way, we’ll make sure and share it. In the meantime, you can keep an eye out for new varietals on our homepage map.
To keep the buzz going on our three-year partnership with Butterfly Pavilion, we’re co-sponsoring a series of events and giveaways throughout 2021, starting right now in April with The Beauty of Beekeeping.
For those who don’t know, Butterfly Pavilion is the first AZA-accredited nonprofit invertebrate zoo in the world, located on an eleven-acre site in Westminster, Colorado. They provide unique exhibits and educational programs, conduct zoological research and generally make conservation possible around the world.
One of Butterfly Pavilion’s cornerstone programs is PACE: Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education. A portion of proceeds from every bottle of Local Hive goes toward PACE and furthering their mission of supporting our pollinators.
Which leads us to the $20 billion dollar question: why focus on beekeepers this month, and not bugs?
Do beekeepers count as pollinators?
Any insect, animal or human that conveys pollen from a flower’s stamen to stigma is a pollinator. While beekeepers aren’t physically moving the pollen grains by hand – talk about tedious – they are choosing where to place their hives. By doing this, they’re influencing which plants and crops their “managed honey bees” visit, which ends up making a much bigger impact than any single insect or animal. Because bees travel up to 2 miles from their hives in search of pollen, a single beehive can result in millions of flowers being pollinated nearby. If a beekeeper shows up in town in early spring and stays through the summer, you’ll notice. And if beekeepers disappeared, you’d really notice, because their managed honey bee pollination is responsible for some $20 billion of crop production every year. This includes many of our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Bottling Honey with Butterfly Pavilion
Last year, our partnership with Butterfly Pavilion produced some pretty sweet results for everyone, not just pollinators, when we bottled honey produced on site at Butterfly Pavilion. This highly exclusive varietal has a powerfully floral, incredibly sweet taste and is limited to 400 bottles available only at Butterfly Pavilion. But, if you’re not a local Colorado resident, you still have a chance to try it. Keep your eyes peeled for a giveaway later this month featuring our Butterfly Pavilion varietal.
This spring, we also put together a visit from the 2021 American Honey Queen, Jennifer Hinkel, and Honey Princess, Virginia Allen. You can watch their interviews with Butterfly Pavilion’s Mario Padilla here and here.
There’s always something new happening at Butterfly Pavilion. For regular updates, follow them on Facebook, or, if you’re near Denver, come pay them a visit.
Mary Reisinger stays busy. Ever since her reign as 2020 American Honey Queen began, she’s had a packed schedule of travelling across the country for speaking engagements, beekeeper meetings, school visits, and – since March – virtual presentations.
In July, she met up with us to discuss beekeeping, local honey and her honey extraction process.
As a representative of the American Beekeeping Federation, Mary knows how hard it is to be an American beekeeper.
“We have different issues than other countries do. By working together with the researchers and other beekeepers in the United States, [the ABF is] focusing on the issues and important things to the American beekeeper.”
In Mary’s view, the two biggest issues are pests – like varroa mites – and nutrition. But fortunately, solving one can solve the other.
“We have to make sure that bees have the best nutrition in order to have the best defenses against these mites. A lot of times, bees don’t find enough food to eat. They need about 7–9 different kinds of pollen to have a balanced diet. A good food source, keeping them safe against pests, those are really the things we worry about as beekeepers.”
Mary will be quick to tell you just how important beekeepers are to our country: “For the livelihood of farmers, grocers, for everybody eating food, we have to focus on honey bee health in America.” But why is that?
“A lot of the fruits, vegetables and nuts that we grow here in America aren’t native. You have to bring bees that are native to those crops to pollinate them.” So, like our crops, our honey bees are imported, too: the European honey bee, apis mellifera, is the most common honey bee in the US.
And the responsibility for keeping them healthy and ready to work falls squarely on American beekeepers.
“Beekeepers are really vital, because when a farmer is growing his crop, he needs pollinators to come and pollinate. For instance, blueberries are grown in about 38 states. Each blueberry flower needs a bee to pollinate before it will produce fruit. If we didn’t truck our bees out to Maine, we wouldn’t have our great supply of blueberries.”
But as with any partnership, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. A farmer’s crops may need pollination when they’re not producing much nectar for the bees, or there may be a too-short window when bees can visit flowers, starving the hives. “[With farmers,] it’s really a give and take. You’ve got to have good food for the bees and good pollination for the flowers.”
While we need professional beekeepers to pollinate crops, we also need amateur beekeepers like Mary to help pollinate wild plants, backyards and other green spaces. Mary is a huge proponent of amateurs: “90% of beekeepers are hobby beekeepers, meaning they keep 1–25 hives.” Since a single hive can pollinate up to 12 square miles, just one amateur beekeeper in an area can make a visible difference: more blooms, more flowers and more biodiversity.
Mary has been keeping bees for nearly half her life and is now up to five hives – more than enough to qualify her as a hobbyist.
“I thought about beekeeping full-time, but I don’t think I’d survive too long with all the heavy lifting.” She’s not kidding: a full hive box with ten frames can easily weigh 50 lbs. She’s currently studying speech pathology in school but plans to always keep bees as a hobby, and not just because she’s the Honey Queen: “It’s really given me a purpose in life.”
Mary lives in Parker, Texas, just north of Dallas. After our chat, Mary took us to nearby Sabine Creek Honey Farms for honey extraction. Even before it was off the comb, she offered us a chance to taste it completely raw. Distinctly flowery, with a light berry taste, her honey has a uniquely Texan flavor. It was unexpectedly sweet, even for honey.
Although it takes a lab to know for sure, she’s confident that most of the flowery taste in her particular varietal comes from crepe myrtles in the surrounding area. In 2018, the last time her honey harvest was tested, she was surprised to find that it contained 10% poison ivy pollen.
John, the proprietor of Sabine Creek Honey Farms, chimed in that bees love the ivies and underbrush in the forests on the outskirts of DFW, so finding poison ivy pollen in Texas honey is no big surprise.
“You can eat poison ivy honey because the oils are on the plant, not the nectar,” she quickly explained. Phew!
After about 4 hours of lifting frames, scraping comb and letting the extractor spin, Mary had emptied 20 frames – about two full hive boxes’ worth – for a total of around 175 pounds of her own homemade honey. Not bad for an amateur.
Beekeepers are the unsung heroes of our food supply. In every part of the country, their hives help pollinate flowers, trees and even the fruits and vegetables we eat every day. As a “thank you” for all the extra color bees and beekeepers bring into the world, we made this coloring sheet for kids and parents.
While you’re coloring, check out our animated guide to pollination to see how bees and beekeepers help plants grow while they’re out and about, collecting pollen and nectar.
All those different pollens and nectars make for plenty of different kinds of honey, too. See our variety of raw & unfiltered honeys from across the USA on our homepage.
Right now, both American bees and beekeepers have their work cut out for them, with more threats to their survival than ever before. But there’s good news, too: you can help.
Murder Hornets are Just the Tip of the Stinger
You may have heard about the coming wave of murder hornets: giant Asian hornets the size of a lipstick tube that can guillotine entire bee colonies. They’re an invasive species currently threatening honey bees in the Pacific Northwest, and fearless amateur entomologists are doing their best to stop them from spreading across the country. But they’re not the worst thing plaguing the bees, just the newest.
According to Dr. Sammy Ramsey, an entomologist at the USDA, we lost 40% of our honey bee colonies last year. That’s right in line with losses we’ve seen for the last decade: roughly 30% every year. What’s causing the crisis? A complex web of problems:
– Parasites like varroa mites can infest entire hives.
– Pesticides can end up in pollen and make it back to the hive.
– Poor nutrition from crop monocultures keeps bees from eating healthy diets.
– The mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder is still stumping scientists.
All of these challenges are ongoing – and gravely serious for bees.
American Beekeepers are Our Best Hope
Local beekeepers here in the US spend a lot of time with their hives. There’s just no better way to ensure that bees receive the balanced nutrition they need to maintain strong, healthy hives. Add to that the constant protection beehives need from pests and predators, and what was once a job has become a constant crusade on the bees’ behalf.
Surprisingly, the biggest problem for American beekeepers isn’t murder hornets or CCD. It’s foreign honey. Foreign honey is notoriously clear – because it’s usually been ultra-filtered – but it hides some murky economics. Its low price point is a sign that corners have been cut in production, like added adulterants or poor bee nutrition.
Foreign honey makes life hard for hardworking American beekeepers, whose relationships with farmers lead to high-quality honey and higher crop yields. They help all of us by pollinating crops, which puts more food on our plates and helps keep crop prices low. All these sweet benefits of local honey are lost if it isn’t 100% made in the US.
Want to learn more about how beekeepers are fighting murder hornets, mites and more? Our resident bee expert, Mario Padilla, is happy to provide some insight from inside the suit. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help A Beekeeper – No Bee Suit Needed
Each American beekeeper makes beekeeping their life’s work because they know just how much good American honey bees do for all of us. By partnering with local beekeepers around the US and bottling their honey, we help them focus on what they do best: taking care of bees. And when you choose raw & unfiltered local honey, you’re helping the beekeepers – and the bees – breathe a little easier.
What do beekeepers do in January? It turns out, not much. Okay, see you next week!
Just kidding. There’s a lot more than meets the eye. So much more, in fact, that modern beekeepers now use sophisticated tools like thermal imaging to check up on their hives.
Beekeeping, like farming and football coaching, is seasonal. A hive depends on the whims of the weather and pollinating plants around it to survive, so bees and keepers have to adjust, every day and every season, to the environment’s whims.
While the worker bees may not be venturing out, a beehive is literally buzzing with activity all month long. Thousands of worker bees have to constantly vibrate to keep the cluster warm enough to function and the brood nest warm enough to raise babies. All this moving takes energy, so each day in January, a hive will consume nearly a pound of its stored honey.
The beekeeper’s one big job is to make sure the hive has food. Hives may or may not be able to make it through the winter on their own, and the keeper has to be careful not to remove too much of their honey stores. The beekeeper has to know when it’s absolutely necessary to step in, because peeking inside the hive allows heat to escape, making it harder to protect the queen and brood.
“January is kind of hands-off.” says Marina Marchese, author of Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper. “We really don’t open the hive.” Other keepers advise treating winter as a beekeeper’s annual time off: a welcome chance to recuperate after sweating through the summer in their suit.
But there’s always work to be done. Enterprising beekeepers use this time to take inventory, order materials and plan for the year ahead. Housekeeping, it turns out, is essential to beekeeping. Throughout the month, a beekeeper will most likely:
– Monitor hives for wind damage and check to make sure they’re ventilated.
– On warmer days in late winter, quickly check the hive to make sure the bees have enough honey stored for food.
– Feed the hive by placing pollen patties or another form of food in the hive.
– Order new equipment and bees. Because so many hives don’t survive the winter, almost every beekeeper has to order new packages of bees in the spring.
– Build and repair beekeeping equipment.
– Clear snow from the hive entrance.
– Attend local bee club meetings.
In a way, a beekeeper is preparing for January all year long. The carefully choreographed building up of a hive’s workforce and honey supply––as one grows, the other tends to shrink––requires expert care from the first day of spring. But it’s all worth it for local, raw and unfiltered honey, bottled just the way the bees made it.
If you happen upon a beehive––which, by the way, is technically called a nest––in your home or yard, don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do.
Don’t: Spray chemicals or pesticides into the hive. This won’t kill the bees immediately, but it will aggravate them––probably not what you were going for. Professional bee removal services will look for ways to lure bees away instead of killing them.
Do: Try natural remedies that keep bees away. Bees, being potent little pollen sniffers, are very sensitive to certain smells, including moth balls, vinegar, cinnamon and even cucumber. Putting any of these around your house will gently encourage them to leave.
Don’t: Try to trap or isolate the bees. You’re more likely to aggravate or spook the colony. Often, they’ll start looking for any escape they can find, making them more aggressive than they would be otherwise.
Do: Contact a professional bee removal service. They can be found in any major metro, and many pest control companies offer bee removal as well. Many local beekeepers will be also happy to take a hive off your hands, often at no cost, because the bees can help them produce their own local honey. Make sure you look for a “bee removal service” first and only for “pest control” as a last resort.
Don’t: Treat a hive and a swarm the same way. A bee swarm is a clump of bees, sometimes appearing as a cloud of bees swirling in the air. Keep in mind that a swarm isn’t the “angry swarm” you might have seen in cartoons. The bees are usually just looking for a place to live and will generally leave after a few days. A hive, with honeycomb and wax, needs to be fully removed or there’s a chance the bees will return.
Do: Check if your bee remover has liability insurance. This can protect the beekeeper and property owner if there’s an accident during the removal. Keep in mind that bee removal is an unregulated business, which means there’s no government body overseeing who performs it and how. The EPA has, however, limited the use of certain pesticides, like neonicotinoids, to protect our pollinators.
While you probably won’t need to worry about surprise bee colonies during the winter and fall––when they hibernate––you’re all set for spring and summer, when a hive’s numbers grow.
Here’s hoping the only sweet surprise coming your way is raw and unfiltered Local Hive Honey.
Right now, millions of bees are hard at work on farms around the world, pollinating many of our favorite foods. Some say it’s as much as 7 out of 10 crops. Others say it’s one-third of all the food we eat. But the fact is, bees love all the same vegetables people do; they just happen to get to them a little earlier. All bees want is some pollen and, in return, we get increased yields on billions of dollars of crops every year.
While many plants benefit from honeybee pollination, few require it. The starchy staple crops that make up most of the calories humans eat – corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and sorghum – can all self-pollinate, so bees tend to leave them alone. Bananas and plantains take things a step further by reproducing without any pollination at all.
Pollination by bees and other insects–known as entomophily–is predominant in plants because it diversifies their gene pool, protecting them against disease. But there are a few other ways plants can pollinate: by wind, water, rain and self-pollination, where a plant transfers pollen between its flowers on its own. Because plants have so many ways to reproduce, it varies how much each species “needs” bees.
We know that honeybee pollination is essential for at least nine plants. If honeybees were unable to pollinate farmers’ fields, these plants would be off store shelves – or much more expensive – within a year:
– All melons, including cantaloupe
Honeybee pollination is considered “greatly important” for dozens of major crops, but a few popular ones include:
(See the full chart here.)
As you can tell, reports of humanity’s death have been greatly exaggerated. We wouldn’t be doomed without bees, but they do play a part in nearly every meal we eat. You can always support hardworking local bees and beekeepers by purchasing the fruits of their labor: raw and unfiltered local honey.