How quickly the seasons seem to change with the arrival of Spring right around the corner. These past few months have greeting us with a great deal of snow and plenty of cold temperatures. Soon we will find ourselves scrambling for the nice days ahead so we can enjoy the outdoors. With these nice days, we also encounter others trying to enjoy the warmth of the outdoors such as the squirrels, skunks, raccoon, and insects. One of the peskiest of the bunch are the 'bees'.
In all actuality, it is not the 'bees' most of us are encountering, but the wasps and yellow jackets. These pests seem to migrate towards us when we are outdoors and go for the beverages we drink and after the foods we eat. Many times we chose not to dine out on the patio any longer, as it is just too frustrating. Unfortunately, anything that flies and stings, we all seem to group together into the bee family. Bees actually pursue pollen and nectar from our flowering plants and rarely go after humans, as we don't seem to have the sweet qualities they seek. Yellow jackets and hornets are carnivores and pursue meat or other insects in which they feed. Humans are more their type, and often during the fall season they seem more apparent as they are seeking food to build up their reserves before winter, thus their activity.
The actual bee group is quite different from the hornets and yellow jackets that hover around our heads. Bees are literally one of the base elements in nature that keep everything in balance. Without the bees, our planet and its inhabitants would be completely different and would not sustain life in the same manner.
The main group of bee is that of the honeybee. These insects work all day to gather pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive for the rest of the crew. They create small pockets of wax that develop into the combs in which the bees lay their harvest. The mix of pollen and nectar produce the honey that many of us use on an everyday basis. Honey is the only natural product that will never spoil. That, in itself, explains the importance and value of the honeybees in our environment.
The family or colony of honeybees that occupy a hive consist of a Queen Bee, whose sole purpose is to produce more bees to sustain the colony, the Drones who fertilize the queen to produce the offspring, and the worker bees. It is the worker bees, which consist of 90% of the hive, who go into nature to collect the pollen and nectar to place into the wax combs that feed the new larvae. It is this constant activity that keeps the colony thriving.
Outside of their survival skills, there lies an even more important component. This is the process of pollination of all blooming plant material in nature. This consists of wild flowers, grains, grasses, fruits and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, and many of our other woody plants that rely on them for producing seed.
In California, the almond groves rely on the bees to produce nearly two thirds of the world's almond supply. Each year when the trees are in bloom, many people transport their hives to this location to pollinate the trees. The Almond grove bloom is currently in process giving these little guys plenty to do. In some years, over 1.5 million hives are brought into the area so the billions of bees can pollinate these trees for 2-3 weeks. The bee owners can make nearly as much money renting out their bees for pollinating as they do for the honey they produce.
Since most areas of the country do not have the expanses of wild flowers needed for the bees, many of them are situated in the state of North Dakota. In fact, over the last 10 years, North Dakota has been the top honey producer in the country. The reason for this is largely due to CPR land that is set aside from farming for a period of time. This allows the grasslands and wildflowers to grow without chemicals to rebuild the land. The bees thrive on items such as clover, alfalfa, and the numerous wildflowers of North Dakota. In recent years with the profitability of growing corn, nearly one third of the CPR land has gone back into production, shrinking the food source in which the bees rely.
There is also the onset of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) over the past few decades, which can cause complete colonies to come to their demise. There are many theories of why this is occurring, but it seems to be a combination of reasons. These would be the high use of farming pesticides and herbicides, the shrinking of their habitat, the stress on the bees leaving them susceptible to predator mites and many viruses. Like humans, when our immune system is depressed, we become ill and struggle to survive in many instances.
In order to bring this ecosystem back into balance, we must decrease the numerous things we are doing to the environment. Allow more land to be natural so they can feed on the wild plants, grow more nectar and pollen producing plants in our yards and gardens, keep our water supply clean and use chemicals in a very controlled and limited manner. In many cases, I would even encourage getting a few hives to live in your gardens to make sure they have a home in which to thrive. Of course, one will want to have some experience in raising these critters, but they are definitely more beneficial than we think.
Bees truly are not the pests we want to believe, but a basic and necessary amenity for a healthy and growing environment. Sometimes it is the small creatures in our world that we take for granted the most, but the fact remains, it is these small creatures that allow the world to work in its most efficient and effective manner. They not only promote and sustain the health of nature itself, but also that of all mankind. Protect the bees in your region as they have been fighting a battle like no other over the past decade. Without them in our environment, life would be very, very difficult. Think about adding more nectar and pollen producing plants into your landscape in the coming growing season to be a part of the change.