“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe
then man would only have four years of life left.
No more bees, no more pollination,
no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”—Albert Einstein
At our last meeting, the Green LIONS Garden Group watched excerpts from the movie Vanishing of the Bees. A Linkhorn parent and local beekeeper, Kal Habr, came to share his experience with beekeeping, a hobby he shares with his daughters. Mr. Habr and his wife Laura own Croc’s Eco Bistro and host the Old Beach Farmer’s Market each Spring through Fall at their restaurant. See our Green Links section for more information on both of these.
Most of us know of the bee’s gift of honey, but their wax is also used to make candles and modeling wax for crafts, as well as many cosmetics and toiletries. Look at the ingredients in your lip balm, there is likely beeswax to be found.
Honey has many health benefits other than just a delicious sweetener. It gives you energy and helps to strengthen the immune system, the system that helps you to fight off illness and disease. While honey is mostly carbohydrates and water it also contains B vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin, and minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Consuming local honey can ease seasonal allergies as your body slowly adapts to the local allergens naturally found within the honey. Honey has long been used in medicinal practices as well, especially with treating skin wounds.
The biggest gift of the bees comes in the form of the foods we eat. Over 30% of the food on our plates comes from plants that were pollinated by bees. Pollination occurs either through bees or the wind. Bees are a vital part of our food supply. Without them we would not be able to enjoy many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat regularly.
At our meeting, students learned about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the phenomenon where bees suddenly abandon a hive leaving only very young bees and the queen behind. CCD has been documented internationally, and in over 35 states in our country. While many causes have been studied, like bacteria and fungi, the main suspect is systemic pesticides used in some farming.
With the increase in monocultures, meaning farms focused on only one or two crops, has come the increase in pests that favor that crop, and in turn the increase of the use of pesticides. More recently has come the use of systemic pesticides which are either coated on the seed of plants before planting or treated on the soil. While systemic pesticides are believed to be safer since they may not initially affect the surrounding environment as intensely as sprayed pesticides, their residue is long-lasting.
What does this mean for the bees? When bees come into contact with the pollen of plants treated with systemic pesticides, though it may not be enough to kill then on the spot, what they carry back to their hive is incorporated into their food supply—their honey. When the bees eat their honey stores in the winter their immune systems are weakened letting in illness and their young are affected in development. It is suspected that this is when the bees abandon the colony.
Bees are an indicator of environmental quality. When the bees are dying, something is wrong and that affects all of us. Systemic pesticides have been banned in Germany, France and Italy on certain crops with good results in the health of bee colonies. Organic beekeeping and hobby beekeeping are on the rise here in the U.S.
What can we do as individuals? We can educate ourselves on the food systems that best help the bees and the planet and nurture them. We have three times a day to vote with our fork. Even getting one right makes a huge impact. We can support local, organic growers or grow our own food when cost is a concern. We can plant plants in our yards or communities that welcome bees.
Many farms are now taking reservations for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. This is a share of their harvest that you buy now and receive throughout the Spring and Summer. It can seem like a large amount to pay initially, but it averages out to much less per week than you could spend at the grocery store on the same items. There is the added benefit of it being local fruits and vegetables which were picked the day before, making them fresher and more nutritious. Much more for your money!
Check out our Green Links section for farms in the area who offer CSAs—Mattawoman, New Earth, Hearthside and Cullipher to name a few.
See http://www.tidewaterbeekeepers.net/ for information about beekeeping in our area. Heritage Natural Market, Stoney’s Produce, and Virginia Garden Organic Grocery all sell local honey. Virginia Garden Organic Grocery also sells beeswax candles. Most farmer’s markets in the area have local honey as well.
Look under our GLGG Files for some great recipes using honey, one for a caramel candy and one for a healthy, protein-rich muffin that kids love.
Please remember to stop by our bulletin board outside the office next time you’re at school. We update it regularly and there is always something new to learn.