Written by Natasha Lyon


20 May is World Bee Day and LYON RAW Artisan Honey is committed to creating awareness of our honey bees and their worldwide decline. Lack of foraging, climate changes and in particular the use of Neonicotinoid pesticides are believed to be the key threats to their sustainability. We simply cannot sustain our food resources without the crucial work of pollinators, of which honey bees are the most important. Please help our honey bees by saying NO to harmful pesticides. Instead, explore companion planting to manage garden pests. Delay pruning of shrubs and trees until after flowering and remember that many weeds are a great source of pollen and nectar. 

The sound of buzzing bees are one of my most favourite sounds. It takes me back to tasting those first golden drops straight from the honeycomb and the glorious scent of fresh honey. Ask anyone what comes to mind when you say ‘bee’ and the answer is likely to be ‘honey’… or perhaps Winnie the Pooh! But besides producing honey, it is their pollination work which plays a crucial role in our food sustainability. These little miracle workers are the world’s most important pollinators and according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the U.N. 78%-92% of the Earth’s flower and seed-producing plants depend on bees and other pollinators for their survival. 

The honey bee is the most important single species for crop pollination and is responsible for pollinating two thirds of the world’s human food resources. If you enjoy apples, berries, cucumbers, pumpkin, melons, stone fruit, avocados and broccoli – to mention a few – you have our honey bees to thank. Some crops, including blueberries and cherries are 90 % dependent on honey bee pollination and almond nuts are entirely dependent on honey bee pollination. Not only does pollination result in higher number of fruits, berries or seed, but it also produce stronger plants. Sadly our honey bees are dying off at an alarming rate. Loss of habitat, lack of foraging, diseases and especially pesticides are believed to be responsible for their sharp decline. 

Recently at a honey bee talk, one of the children asked me if it is possible for honey bees to die off entirely. I suppose we can’t answer this question without being able peek into the future, but let me share Hanyuan county story with you. In the south Sichuan province of China, Hnayuan is home to pear orchards which carpet the mountains down to the foot of the valley. This region is entirely dependent on farming this crop. And it isn’t the honey bees they have to thank for their pear crop. In fact, the honey bees have died out long ago due to uncontrolled use of pesticides in the 1980’s which wiped out their entire bee population. Now in April each year, the pollination of each and every blossom is done by hand. Humans do the job of honey bees. Needless to say, humans are far less efficient pollinators. Labourers stand on ladders and use a long bamboo stick, with feathers attached to the end, to transfer pollen from one blossom to the next. 

So yes, it is possible for our honey bees to die out entirely. The question should rather be, can we afford for our honey bees to die out? 

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP SAVE OUR HONEY BEES 

  • Please say NO to pesticides. Even “bee friendly” chemicals which does not kill the honey bees on contact is harmful. Research suggest that these chemicals may interfere with the honey bee’s ability to navigate and may also affect the development of the baby bees. Rather, explore “companion planting” to manage garden pests. 
  • Allow flowers to bloom before pruning hedges or shrubs. Often these flowers provide much needed pollen and nectar for our honey bees. Pollen is a source of protein whilst nectar provides carbohydrates. 
  • Weeds are often wonderful bee food so it may be fun to create a ‘’weed bee sanctuary’’ spot in your garden. 
  • Plant for bees. Nathalie Strassburg have a wonderful website which is worth a visit (www.medicinegarden.co.za). Her website also include useful tips and information on companion planting. 
  • Support our beekeepers by paying fair prices for honest, real honey. It takes many trips to apiary sites, and hours of labour, to tend to their honey bees. Public donations to support our beekeeping industry can also be made to SABIO (website below). 

WHEN HONEY BEES MOVE IN… 

In Celtic mythology, the honey bee is a messenger between our world and the spirit realm, and is often associated with wisdom. In ancient Egypt, it was believed that Ra, the sun god, created the honeybee from his tears and that messages are delivered to earth, by the honey bees ‘dripping’ straight from the face of Ra. 

Due to the diversity of well-established gardens, we have some amazing garden sanctuaries attracting our honey bees. This is wonderful but can also be scary when a swarm of honey bees move in. The more I learn about this super organism and their highly complex social structure, the more I have come to realise that honey bees are defensive insects and not innately aggressive. When our gardens have a selection of indigenous and exotic foraging to choose from, it becomes more attractive for our honey bees to ‘move in’. Perhaps, if you believe in magical mysteries, the honey bee’s arrival may be a sign of wisdom and blessings from heaven. 

I am sure that many of you have had to make contact with a bee removal expert. Bees will naturally occupy house roof cavities, meter & pool motor boxes, drums, waste bins, bird logs, empty tree trunks and any space in which they feel at home and protected from the elements. Every colony’s choice of home is unique and many factors determine if, when and how the bees should be relocated. Generally speaking, if the honey bee colony is located within the parameters of your property, you have the mandate to select and pay for your own bee removal (never attempt to do this yourself. However, if the honey bees occupy a manhole situated outside your parameter wall, then the respective telecommunication company may make use of their own bee removal service provider. It is important to consult your home owner, body corporate and or home owner association in this regard. 

Ideally, bees should be removed at night when all the bees are in the hive. A honey bee colony can vary between 30,000 – 60,000 bees. Up to a third of the bees will be out foraging during the day. Therefore, a day time removal may result in the girls arriving back home with their treasures of nectar and pollen, to find the rest of their family gone. Honey bees are social insects and without the rest of the super organism they will die off. Therefore it is not ideal. However, the length of time the bees have occupied their new home, combined with other variables, will determine the viability of a day time removal. Bee removal experts will re-hive the swarm where possible so that the bees can be relocated successfully. As with any professional service, Bee Removal experts charge a fee in compensation for their time, labour and travelling costs. Please visit South African Bee Industry Organisation (www.sabio.org.za) to locate a qualified bee removal expert near you. Details of Honey Bee Associations across South African can also be found on this website. 

REAL HONEST HONEY 

Honey is seasonal and sadly it is becoming one of the most adulterated food items in South Africa. Cheap imports and creative versions of honey are on the increase and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between natural honey and man-made honey. Ethical beekeepers and honey bee farmers simply cannot compete with adulterated honey prices. So how do we address this? How do we support the honest, hard-working bee farmer and how do we know if what we buy is real honey? I have spent a long time trying to address these questions with a value proposition which delivers premium raw honey, protects our honey bees through education, and supports our beekeepers by paying fair prices for real honey. The best guidance I can give is to know where your honey comes from. Ask questions with regard to the honey extraction process, apiary location, type of foraging and who the beekeeper is. Be prepared to pay a fair price for real honey. Keep in mind that no two honeys are exactly the same. The nutritional properties of honey along with the colour, aroma and flavour is determined by the type of foraging, weather patterns and the type and quality of soil the plants and trees grow in. 

South Africa is well known for our amazing selection of honeys, believed to be some of the best tasting in the world. 

It takes 12 honey bees all their life to produce 1 teaspoon of honey, surely a valid reason to savour every drop! 


For further information relating to honey bee talks & private honey tastings, please email [email protected]. SABIO member, Southern’s Beekeeping Association member, training steward – Honey Judge Guild of SA. 

 

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