Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Humble Bee
I'm sitting here in the work van waiting for Steve to uninstall a dishwasher for a customer. It shouldn't be long until he's done, but I wanted to tell you about something interesting I saw. This home is located in Qualicum, right on the old Island Hwy near the beach and backing onto the golf course. They have a very nicely landscaped garden and in fact the gardener is here now trimming the grass. But what interested me was the hedge I'm sitting beside. It is Ceanothus Victoria. It's lovely blue flower clusters are attracting all sort of flying insects including honey bees. It does my heart good to see that there is a colony of these wonderful little creatures nearby. With honey bees so much in the news recently due to the many threats to their populations I'm glad to see that somewhere in town there is a beekeeper doing well. I think that here in Qualicum Beach people are aware of the danger posed by indiscriminate use of pesticides and the golf course concentrates on maintaining trees, shrubs and grass as opposed to ornate flower beds requiring chemicals. Any steps that we can take to help give honey bees a fighting chance helps all of humanity in the long run. Sound dramatic? It's true! Did you know that one bite out of every 3 you eat is dependent on bees? They are used to pollinate not just vegetables, but all the tree fruit, melons, and berries you eat. Just think about your last meal and ponder this...what grew from a seed? That parent plant had to be pollinated and left to make seed. The corn used for biofuel is pollinated by bees. The miles and miles of canola crops grown for their oil are pollinated by bees. Grapes?...You betcha, Bees! Billions and billions of these amazing workers are helping to provide not only the honey you eat but many of your other foods as well. They are moved around the country to pollinate crops as the seasons change and live out their lives quietly and unassumingly pollinating and making honey as a bonus. But their colonies are collapsing due to pests, disease, pollution and sometimes for reasons unknown such as with colony collapse disorder. Bees are threatened, and with them goes one third of our food production. Sure there are other ways of pollinating and other bee species out there, but none so efficient and so helpful to man as the honey bee. So please support local bee keepers by purchasing their honey, by avoiding spray pesticides onn your flowers and veggie gardens, and perhaps see about keeping a hive of bees yourself. It's easy to start, interesting, and will increase the yield of your garden. And I promise you won't get stung as much as you think! I think some stings are inevitable but neither Stephen or myself has even been stung and the same is true for our children. We position the hives so that we people are out of their flight paths and generally interaction is minimal.
Here in Canada you must be registered with the gov't to keep bees but it's a very easy process that simply allows them to keep track of the colony locations in case of disease. A basic hive, suit, hat, veil, gloves, and smoker set up is going to set you back about $250 or less if you don't mind used equipment or can make do without overalls. One way to also save big is to build your own hive. You can buy pre-cut pieces that you just need to nail together and paint or you can consider using a top bar hive. We built and used one and we loved it! We also made observation windows that could open so we could see what was happening without disturbing them. With the current scarcity of bees, a package (that's what it's called when you buy 2-3 lbs of bees and 1 queen to get you started) will cost you anywhere form $80-$200 and there have been some years recently when it was not possible to get them at all, not even from Chile or Australia.
The wax from hives has uses in cosmetics, lotions, candle making and soap production. Honey can be eaten, used to sweeten food and drink, even in first aid as a wound dressing.
If you are thinking that beekeeping might be something you'd like to try there are numerous books and internet sites with very good information available for free. Do your research. Join a local club and get to know your fellow apiarists. Bees are truly one of the most under-appreciated links on the whole food chain.