*image from the hilarious Natalie Dee
Bees are incredibly important for our planet, or at least, incredibly important to the survival of many plant species, and therefore to the various animals that depend on those plant species for nourishment, such as, you know, us humans. Bees account for 80% of all insect pollination and are responsible for pollinating about 1/3 of our food crops, which could be thought of as providing every third bite of food you eat. We need the hard work of bees not only to keep eating honey, but to keep eating foods like apples, almonds, avocados, apricots, plums, blueberries, cranberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, alfalfa, carrots, cantaloupe, cherries, onions, broccoli, limes, lemons, oranges… AND SO ON.
We all know that bees work hard, but do you realize just HOW hard? Let’s talk honey production for a moment. To make just one pound of honey, a hive of 60,000 Canadian honeybees will fly the equivalent of twice around the world and visit two million flowers. In order to make one pound of honey, they must visit 2 million flowers, traveling 55,000 miles on average. Every day, a single honeybee makes 10 trips to visit more than 1,000 flowers. Over its life, each Canadian honeybee will make just 1/10th of a teaspoon (.5ml) of honey.
This means it takes the life work of 10 honey bees to make 1 teaspoon of honey.
So how can we show our gratitude and give the bees some thanks? There are several ways!
1. Buy local honey, from a local bee keeper
This one’s a the top of a list for a number of reasons. The first in my heart is straight-up bee respect. Large-scale commercial honey production often abuses bees in the process, and yet in talking to local bee keepers at farmer’s markets (and even calling some small-scale but commercially available companies), I have yet to meet a SINGLE local bee keeper who has anything but respect for his or her bees, and therefore none of them do anything nasty.
Here are the basics:
- Bees make honey as food for themselves, to get them through the long winter. Most large-scale commercial operations harvest ALL of the honey and replace it with sugar water (usually diluted corn syrup), which doesn’t have near the nutritional profile of honey, leaving the bees malnourished. That sure is a nasty trick to play on our favourite pollinators! Every local bee keeper I’ve ever talked to uses an alternative method, either leaving the bees enough of their own honey every harvest, or harvesting early enough in the season that they still have ample time to make themselves enough honey for the winter ahead.
- Commercial, large-scale bee keepers often employ chemical sprays on their hives at the end of each season, which, so far as I can tell, is both completely pointless and harmful.
- Local honey will contain pollens from local plants, which means that it can help you build resistance to seasonal allergies! Honey from far away places will have pollens from far away places, which you will probably not be exposed to during allergy season, and therefore will not benefit you.
- Supporting ethical and local food-providers is always a freaking awesome thing to do.
Where to buy local honey, you ask?
BEST: Go to a farmer’s market and buy directly from a bee keeper. If you want to, you can ask questions about their practice. Try something simple and open like, “tell me about your farm/honey” or “how do you harvest your honey?” or get specific and ask something like, “Do you use sugar water with your bees, or do you leave some honey each harvest?”
SECOND BEST: Go to a health food store and buy a honey that’s as local as possible. Check the label to see where it’s from. Here in southern Ontario, a lot of stores carry honey from Vaughn, for example.
2. Plant some borage in your garden
Bees love borage! It’s a nectar-ficic plant that grows quickly and easily, and blooms well into the fall. Borage will attract bees to your garden, which is a bonus for you and whatever you’ve got planted, but also helps to support our fuzzy-bumble-friends by offering them lots of nectar.
3. Leave the dandelions
Similar to the point above, dandelions are a great offering to bees, but this time for a different reason. Dandelion flowers are among the first to appear each spring, and are therefore the first source of pollen for our friends the bees. I know, neighbours complain when those pretty white seed puffs make their way over and take root EVERYWHERE, but if you have a space where you can leave even just SOME dandelions to flower rather than sacrificing them to your mower, if even just for the earliest part of the season, it can help the bees out.
4. Eat organic
Bees are having a really hard time right now. Their very survival is being threatened, and while there are a lot of ideas on what is causing these recent mass-colony die-offs, one thing that is understood is that pesticides are playing a significant role in it. Support the production of pesticide-free food and responsible farming practices by buying organic! Trust us, you don’t want to put that toxic shit in your body anyway.
5. Sign a petition to protect the bees
Help to ban the use of neonicotinoid: the pesticide thought to be killing off whole bee colonies. Sign the petition here. Then consider sharing it on Facebook or sending it to friends.
6. Savour each morsel and eat with appreciation!
Honey is a treat! While it has lots of incredible nutritional benefits (the stuff is like MEDICINE!), it’s still a lot of sugar, so it should be eaten in moderation for your health. But also out of respect for the tremendous work that goes into it, please simply recognize that we are lucky human beans indeed to be eating such goodness and take a moment to feel a little gratitude for the work that went into making it (remember, each teaspoon is the lifework of 10 bees!). Take your time and savour that sweetness on your tongue and ENJOY IT. There ain’t nothing like the taste of raw honey.
7. Pass this info on to your family and friends who are still eating commercially produced stuff out of a plastic bear-or-hive-shaped jar.
If it’s better for you, you know it’s better for them too. AND better for the bees. AND better for food crops. And therefore better for all humans. It’s just a big win-fest.
Stay sweet, friends!
-Mzzzzzzzzzzzz. Candace and the FGF team