Beekeeping with Kate

This week's news comes from Farm Manager (and beekeeper) Kate: As we picked our first melons this past week, there was a constant buzz of bees in the melon blossoms:  honeybees, bumblebees, an interesting all-black bee...  I’m sure most of you have heard cries to “save the bees”, and some of you may have heard me talk about bees at the farm kids workshop in March.  An interest in bees runs in my family.  My uncle is a small commercial beekeeper in California, travelling to different crops for pollination services with over 500 hives and selling his honey at farmers markets and through a farm box. A few years ago, I spent the winter living with my uncle and learning about bees.  It was an incredible crash course in beekeeping and I witnessed one of the largest pollination events during the almond bloom, where beekeepers travel from all over the US to California’s Central Valley.  During the almond bloom there was a meeting of some of the largest and most outspoken beekeepers in the U.S., some who have testified in front of congress on behalf of bees.  It was humbling to be in the presence of people who were fighting to save the bees, but as I listened closer, I couldn't help but be skeptical.  The success and failure of those beekeepers seemed to be directly related to industrial scale agriculture, which demands their pollination services in order to have a crop.  However, diseases and pests spread rapidly when millions of colonies are in the same area.  Additionally, bees may be exposed to harmful agricultural chemicals.  Many beekeepers like my uncle are becoming more selective when choosing where to put their bees and forego a pollination contract and the price it pays. Honeybees have played a pivotal role in bringing attention to struggling pollinators.  Maybe we care because we receive a tangible benefit from them:  honey.  Many of the campaigns to help honeybees also help native bees, and we should continue these practices, such as minimizing harmful agricultural and lawn chemicals and planting more native flowers.  In the case of Wisconsin apples, native bees actually do a better job pollinating blossoms than rented honeybees.  Honeybees often steal nectar without spreading pollen and visit adjacent blossoms rather than many trees, failing to perform cross-pollination. After returning from California, I decided to keep a couple of hives.  I love watching the colony grow, how the bees build their intricate home, and I love the delicious honey they make from the prairie’s nectar.  As I walked through the prairie a couple of weeks ago, I saw my honeybees and many other bees sipping sweet nectar from joe-pye weed, a prairie flower in full bloom. You can watch Blue Moon’s resident honeybees when you head out to the U-Pick field! A few fun facts about honeybees for the whole family…
  • One honeybee produces 1/12-teaspoon honey.  It takes 24 honeybees to make one honey stick!
  • Only the queen bee lays eggs, so all of the bees in one colony are brothers and sisters.
  • Worker bees (all female) have different jobs based on their age.  Young workers take care of baby bees and then clean up around the hive.  Older bees forage for nectar or pollen or may be guard bees protecting the hive.
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