Save Our Bees!

| July 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

I have attended three lectures on bees since I began writing this column. Years ago, a speaker gave an anecdotal talk to Mission Hills Garden Club about how she and her sister took over their father’s hives after his death. A few years later, at the San Diego Horticultural Society a speaker from UCSD brought a glass hive and a video presentation showing bees’ activities. Identified by tiny numbers painted on their backs, they wore miniature harnesses with tracking devices. The third bee lecture was at the Point Loma Garden Club. Hilary Kearney, who sells her bees’ honey, gives classes in bee-keeping, and does bee removal for a living, spoke. We learned how essential bees are to our well-being (pun intended).

According to Kearney, “One out of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.” Bee-pollinated foods may be eaten directly or they feed animals that produce food and meat. Maize is one of the few crops not dependent on bees for propagation.

Honey bees live in hives. Natural hives have hanging combs. Rarely do bees build a hive under a branch; the hive must be accessible to their food sources.

Bees prefer cavities with a temperature between 97 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit. To maintain this, in summer they cool the hive by placing water around the hive and fanning the air with their wings until the temperature is correct. In winter they cluster, using their own body heat to generate warmth.

A hive is made up of between 100 to 100,000 worker bees, all female. The queen, bigger and longer than the others, is in the middle of her workers. She has two jobs, to mate and to lay eggs, each in the bottom of a wax cell in an area of the hive. Three days later it hatches into a larva, which first eats royal jelly fed by nurse bees. Then it eats pollen and honey for six days after which it becomes an inactive pupa. While sealed in its capped cell, it grows into a female worker bee. Throughout her life’s stages this worker bee will do every job except to lay eggs and mate. The worker bees are the smallest; the drones are fatter than the queen and larger worker bee.

One job female workers have is feeding and nourishing the babies (and the queen). Another is building and repairing the hive. Cleaning the hive is also a job. Gatherers collect food. They put pollen into baskets on their back legs. As more pollen is gathered, some falls onto the pistil of another flower resulting in cross-pollination. The gatherer takes the pollen back to the hive. Since stored pollen can become rancid, and honey cannot support bacterial life, pollen is mixed with a bit of honey to prevent spoilage.

Pollen provides the bees with protein. Bees suck up nectar through the proboscis for carbohydrates. This is mixed with enzymes in one of their two stomachs: one is for storing nectar; the other is for food. They carry their weight in nectar which, when stored in the wax cells, evaporates into honey. These gatherers communicate food sources with a dance. The direction a bee “waggles” in a figure eight tells her sisters where the food source is. The longer she waggles, the further away the flowers.

Worker bees control most of what happens in the hive by what they feed the others. What the queen eats determines whether her eggs are fertile. Worker bees’ food distribution gives them control over which egg can become a queen, how many drones there will be, and when it is time to swarm. In spring between five and 30 per cent of the worker bees become drones. Their only job is to mate with the queen, and they usually die after mating.

Currently, bees are dying from many causes. Before people began providing farmers with bees to pollinate their crops, bees had seasonal “breaks.” With the bees now being shipped to different parts of the country, they have no down time. Normally bees migrate for food, but forced migration is stressful. Commercial bees are constantly in unfamiliar territory, their hives piled with hives from other parts of the country where they are subjected to diseases carried by bees from other areas. There are 170 different kinds of mites living on a bee, but only three are harmful. Over 30 different kinds of insects other than bees live in a beehive.

Pesticides and chemical weed controls such as Roundup are also killing our bees. Roundup is the worst offender It removes habitat such as milkweed, a staple for the Monarch butterfly. Bees love dandelions, sour grass, and flowers. If you see plants that claim to be protected from aphids, white flies, beetles and mealybugs, do NOT buy them. Make sure the plants you buy are not pre-treated with neonics, which will kill the bees. Neonicotinoids are banned in Europe, but not here.

Products that eradicate pests and unwanted flora will compromise bees’ immune systems and damage bees neurologically, causing their memories to fail thus destroying the ability to find their way. They cause a drop in the drone’s sperm count to 40 per cent of what is needed to reproduce. Poisoned soil weakens plants.

How can we help our bees thrive?

Never use pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or anything that contaminates the plants, thus killing the bees that feed on them.

2. Do plant flowers and leave the weeds; bees (and butterflies) love them.

3. Avoid growing lawns as they provide nothing for bees.

Buy local and raw honey from your local beekeepers making sure they practice sustainable beekeeping.

Provide a source of fresh water for the bees.

Be gentle with bees. They prefer not to sting you. If you are stung, wait a few minutes. The bee will probably extricate her stinger herself without ripping out her abdomen and dying.

We need to save our bees if we want to feed the fauna of our planet.

The next meeting of the Mission Hills Garden Club is 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, September 26 at the Mission Hills Nursery. You can renew your membership at the meeting. $35 is for an individual membership; $50 for a couple

In spring between five and 30 per cent of the worker bees become drones.

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Category: Animals, Education, Health & Fitness, Local News

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.