I find bees fascinating! So much so I met up with Vicky from The Urban Beehive in Sydney to get her take on everything to do with bees and beekeeping. It was a really interesting discussion that got me thinking about the importance of bees in urban environments and sparked a curiosity to learn more. This article is a little introduction to the honey industry, thanks to Vicky’s insights.
What bees do? Bee’s like being busy, they spend there month of life foraging for nectar on trees and plants, pollinating them and flying back to the hive with this sap – mixing it all the while with their own live enzymes to create honey for the hive. On arrival they follow an orderly system of filing the hive from top to bottom with this sweet honey.
Isn’t it unethical to take the bee’s honey away from them? Bee’s like being busy and if bee keepers weren’t to harvest honey from the hive the bees would likely become ‘honey bound’, or in laymen’s terms claustrophobic. When this happens bee’s can bore down and continue to fill the hive until they have essentially encapsulated the Queen in a comb of honey, no longer able to breed her next tribe of worker bee’s the hive population drops significantly and the hive can collapse. Before this happens the bee’s may decide to flee. If this is the case a vote is cast, being a democratic species, and they will fly away.
How can I help increase local bee populations? 1) Plant a variety of nectar producing plants so that bee’s will have food all year around. Species such as borage and eucalypts are brilliant for the Australian climate, and all wildflowers, primulas and sunflowers are ideal in a UK climate. 2) Buy organic food, one of the biggest threats to bee’s is pesticides. A study done in America on the bee’s wax from an urban hive proved that the bees had been exposed to over 40 harmful herbicides, pesticides and toxic chemicals. For an animal that lives for approximately 30 days, that’s huge.
Bee keepers take all of the bee’s honey and leave them with nothing to survive. Yes, correct this happens. In the same way that some farmers choose to lock their livestock in barns hooked up to feedlots and make them spend there whole lives indoors with limited space and questionable sanitation. Some people just do not do the right thing. And as it has been exampled to us, time and time again, it is often the large agribusiness structured corporations that trade quality for quantity in there quest to produce more, for less, for us. Rant over…facts. Some beekeepers have a reputation for harvesting all of the honey from the hive, supplementing the bees with sugar water, ‘essentially this is like having a diet of just donuts. It doesn’t offer much nutrition but you can live for a while on it’. This is an unethical practise, no doubt about it – luckily in Australia we don’t see this practice often as our bees produce huge amounts of honey in comparison to other countries, making bee keeping a profitable enterprise. Common practise is to rotate honey boxes always leaving a few trays for the bee’s to feed off whilst they continue on their mission to fill the hive.
What is the effect of large scale Agribusiness on bee populations? The massive expanses of monoculture agriculture poses a huge threat to the worker bee’s, these systems are reliant on pesticides and herbicides to survive. The less diverse your crop range the less diverse your ecosystems is, and this is Armageddon for bees. The phrase ‘variety is the spice of life’ doesn’t just apply to humans, its just as important to bee’s. If you reduce the variety of fauna in an ecosystem you reduce their seasonal food supply and this can have a huge impact on the Queen’s ability to supply the hive with healthy bee’s.
The biggest threat to bee’s in Australia? Immigration. Australia is the only country in the world that doesn’t have the Varroa virus, which has devastated global bee populations since its infestation in the 1960’s. Shockingly if this virus was to make it into Australia, possibly via a port or container ship though nesting bee’s from NZ, then our national nee population would drop by about 70%. Remember how bee’s pollinate our flowering crops? Well just a bit of quick math indicates a resultant loss in food production by 70%. What is the actual risk of a virus making its way to Australia? Well as Vicky was quick to point out, with the advancements in technology ports are now moving towards being solely operated by robots. With robots doing the grunt of the work ports will become super efficient and will be great for importing and exporting trade, however robots don’t spot dead bees on the tarmac and they also don’t hear swarms of bees that have nested themselves in the ohh so desirable cool, dark and damp corners of a shipping container. Scary potential. The risk to out bio-security is real and the resultant damage it would have on farmers would be devastating.
Why I love bee’s? They are carbon neutral in every sense of the world, not only do they require no feed but everything they create can be reused! Bee’s wax is used to create more honey trays and when in abundance can be used for candles. They are necessary for pollinating crops such as tomatoes, the base of all things Italian and yum, and without them we would have a pretty boring diet. So thank you bees for all the wonderful seasonal fruits and veggies.
Thanks to Vicky & Doug for all the work they do in the city of Sydney to bring awareness to the important role bee’s play in our food system. Find your local honey supplier and look into their courses here.
We created Farm to Face because we know that the food we eat has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, and on the planet! We’re inspiring people to live waste free and eat for the future by choosing local, seasonal and ethical foods.
Sign up to our mailing list for updates including our latest events, recipes and blog posts.