«If bees were to disappear form the face of the earth, humans would have just 4 years left to live»
— Sir David Attenborough.
Food for thought. Speaking of… What did you have for breakfast this morning? Fruit salad? Continental breakfast with coffee and juice? Müsli with fresh fruit? Cheese and tomato sandwich? Ham and cucumber sandwich? If yes, know that all of the above were brought to you by the humble bumble bees and their insect friends. You may argue that bees only make honey, not dairy or meat, which is true. That being said, they are responsible for the pollination of most the plants that the animals eat. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction. Bees are absolutely necessary to pollinate most of our fruit and vegetables, and with them being in dire straits, so are we, and actually also our economy. Yes, I said economy. According to Friends Of The Earth it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate crops. In a world without our be-winged little friends, our food would cost a lot more to produce and our economy would suffer. Wild areas are perfect for picnics; for humans and pollinators alike, as well as they give us clean air and water. Natural spaces are important if we’re going to cope with a changing climate; they absorb excess water and heat, and can offer cool shade.
Sir David Attenborough has been a real life hero of mine ever since the first time I saw him on TV, which I’m sure is the case with many of you fellow earthlings. I felt a kinship, and was instantly drawn to his childlike wonder and adoration of this planet on which we are so fortunate to reside. His dedication to protect and preserve our environment is contagious, and I hope that all us humans are soon to be thoroughly infected; because the time is NOW. In the last five years the bee population has dropped by 1/3. Wether you believe that the environmental changes we see are man made or not, we have nothing to lose in making an effort to see if we can make a difference for the better, apart from our convenience and self absorption perhaps. We are lucky to be alive in this day and age to experience a time where the earth is bountiful. I think that we tend to take our surroundings for granted, because in our life time it has always been there, and we expect it, perhaps subconsciously, to continuously being there to provide and support us in all eternity — it won’t.
Sir Attenboroughs facebook post furthermore reads: «This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple sugar and water solution will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach».
News from the world of science
An article in rbr, Robotics Business Review, in March this year tells of exciting news from Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is that they successfully have tested an autonomous robotic bug that can fly. The pollination drone possess the same size, mass and weight of a bubble bee or a large house fly, and could in 20-30 years time fly around in large swarms to assist humans in agricultural production.
People for ethical treatment of animals, PeTA.
PeTA´s philosophy is that animals are not our to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way. On their home page we can read that bees are naturally involved in producing many other substances apart from the well known and loved honey; such as pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and beeswax. When us humans take these products for our own benefit, or in other ways intervene, we often leave the bees unable to fight off diseases and survive harsh winters.
Facts from Animal Ethics
(Note: This is an American website. There are a lot of unethical things done to bees in order to keep up with the demand from us consumers. Instrumental insemination, wing and leg clipping, splitting of hives are some of them. I have chosen not to elaborate on this, but do look it up if you’re interested.The procedures of beekeeping and harvesting of various bee products will vary from country to country, and also from beekeeper to beekeeper. I do believe that local small scale farming beats industrial factory farming, so if choosing to use bee products be sure to check out the origin and look out for the organic and ethical kind).
Honey is essentially bee vomit, and is their source of food during winter months. Bees make honey from the nectar they have collected from flowers and plants. Due to the high water content, they will throw up and re-ingest the nectar until they have partially digested it. This is repeated many times, and in the process their organisms add enzymes to the nectar. The honey is then regurgitated into a cell, «topped» with wax and stored in honeycombs. Bees have to visit more than two million flowers to create a single pound of honey, and it takes 12 worker bees their entire lifetime to create a single teaspoon of that golden elixir. That really gives you something to ponder next time you reach for the honey, doesn’t it?
The extraction of honey, which is sold in vast amounts, is the main reason for the exploitation of bees, although use of other bee products also contributes to harm them, and makes it profitable for those humans who do. To extract the honey more easily, the hives will sometimes be heated while still in the structure it was made in. However, bees are oftentimes transported with the honey and might be killed. One author involved in bee exploitation writes: «If there are no windows in the room other methods such as an electric grid can be used to dispose of the stray bees». Those bees that haven’t been killed, are left without their food. To substitute this, bees are fed water with sugar. It has been argued that this is not worse for the bees than honey, but sugar doesn’t properly nourish them.
– Good honey substitutes for human consumption are A grades maple syrup, fruit, dates and date syrup.
Collected from flowers by the bees in sacs on their legs, and fed to their young. To trap some of the pollen, which is sold to be used as human food, beekeepers place devices at the entrance of hives. The bees still have some pollen left to feed their young, but have to work much harder for it. Humans have developed a way to collect pollen, but are yet to be able to collect as much of a broad variety as bees can. This could eventually be done, but is not likely to as long as bees are used out of convenience.
This is not a sort of honey. It is a substance secreted by the hypopharyngeal gland at the head of the young worker bees called «nurses». Royal jelly is the special food the queen needs to develop, and is given to larvas the first three days of their lives. After those three days the larvae selected to develop into new queens are fed royal jelly which will trigger a series of changes in the organism that eventually will lead to her development into a queen. The other larvae are fed other products. Humans use royal jelly as a food supplement or as a medicine.
Used as a glue to repair small holes in the hive. It has antiseptic properties and keep mitotic infections out of the hive. They also use it to isolate parts of the hive that are a threat to their health. Propolis is a resinous mixture which is collected by bees from tree buds or other parts of plants. Humans use it for medical and other purposes, such as the production of cosmetics and special varnishes. The extraction of propolis from hives entails the bees will have to go and pick more to keep the hive safe.
Made by the bees by masticating the secretion from glands on the underside of their abdomen. This production is very demanding, and the bee must consume at least eight times as much honey to do the job. The wax is used to build their hives, and is also used to fix any big holes that might have been opened in the hive. Humans use the wax to produce candles, cosmetics, some food products and pharmaceuticals. As it is the case with the extraction of all other bee products, the bee has to work hard to produce more and more to make up for what we take from them.
Friends Of The Earths suggestions to what you can do to help
- Choose organic fruit and veg.
- Make your garden, street and community bee-friendly. What is a good place for people is a good place for pollinators. Just like us they have a need for a varied diet, shelter, clean water. Plant plants that are rich in nectar and pollen. Nectar provides sugar for energy, and pollen contains protein and oils. Don’t use harmful pesticides. Build bee hotels. Make bee drinking stations. You can read more on bee garden planning further down the page.
- Persuade the government to take action not to use bee-harming pesticides.
- Ask the council to use less pesticides.
- Ask the council to transform green spaces into habitats for bees and other pollinators.
- Bees are crucial in the countryside but they’re important in the city too. A wild window box in the middle of the urban jungle is very helpful. A whole building covered in window boxes is even more useful and it also looks fantastic.
- Choose local honey. This lends support to local bees and bee keepers. Encourage friends and neighbors to do the same.
- Why not take your experiences to work: tell your colleagues what you’re doing for bees, and why. Encourage them to do some bee-friendly planting of their own. Often offices have patches of grass or planters that could be perked up with some pretty flowering plants. Reassure the resident gardener – if there is one – that bee-friendly planting can be both formal and low maintenance. Smart troughs filled with drought-resistant lavender look great all year round, and also smell wonderful. Bee-friendly planting won’t just improve things for pollinators – it’ll improve the work atmosphere too.
- Show off your bee-friendly garden and encourage your friends to do the same. A friendly competition between neighbours could result in a smorgasbord for the tiny pollinators, and even friendships across fences and streets.
If you have decided to make an effort to support the life of bees, the first thing you’d want to do is survey your spot. Have a short wander and see what plants are abuzz with life. Many ornamental flowers look great, but have been bred to contain no nectar and in effect do very little for wildlife. Ask your local garden centre for advice. Different bees are active throughout the year, so you’ll need flowering plants from spring to winter. Bee species´ tongues vary in size, so try to provide varied shaped flowers. Give your mower and yourself a break, and give the bees some shelter at the same time by letting the grass grow. When you cut it, cut it less often and less closely. Steer away from the pesticides and herbicides, however tempting it might be.
Flowers for bees:
Lungwort – spring
Monarda «bee balm» – summer
Sedum – autumn
Winter aconite – winter
Crocus – spring
Phacelia – summer
Perennial wallflower -autumn
Snowdrop – winter
Herbs for bees:
Marjoram – spring
Chives – summer
Sage – autumn
Rosemary – winter
Fruit and veg for bees:
Kale – spring
Strawberry – summer
Runner/Broad bean – autumn
Raspberry – winter
Wildflowers for bees:
Cowslip – spring
Viper`s bugloss – summer
White dead nettle – autumn
Lesser celandine – winter
Comfrey – spring
Wood forget-me-not – summer
Yarrow – autumn
Field speedwell – winter
Trees and shrubs for bees:
Pussy willow- spring
Lavender – summer
Abelia- «bee bush» – autumn
Mahonia – winter
Apple or crabapple – spring
Hawthorn – summer
Honeysuckle – autumn
The causes of bee decline
Even if some more research is necessary on the issue to really understand it, we already know enough to do something to help. Changes in land use, loss of habitat, disease, pesticides, farming practices, pollution, invasive non-native plant and animal species, plus climate change are amongst the known causes.
Dedicate an area in your garden to beautiful and low-maintenance wildflowers. What a bonus! If you don’t have a garden, you can create a miniature meadow in a container. Mixes of meadow-seeds are available in annual and perennial form. The annuals will provide instant impact, whereas the perennials take some time to get going, but will over the years produce a more colourful and interesting environment for those little hard working pollinators.
Bee of the generation that saves the bees! ?