Posted by: ktzefr | July 15, 2014

Honey Bees, Weeds, and Wild Things

IMG_8767When I was growing up honeybees were the bane of my existence.   I was always getting stung.

For eight months of the year I wore shoes.  I always had school shoes and church shoes, but my every-day summer “shoes” were the soles of my feet.  They required a fair amount of scrubbing before going to bed at night, so they toughened up over the summer.  Though I timidly walked on dirt and gravel paths in May, I could practically run on rocks by August.

Honeybee on Honeyvine Milkweed blossom; Photo:KFawcett

Honeybee on Honeyvine Milkweed blossom; Photo:KFawcett

But the honeybees got me.  We had a yard full of clover with pretty white flowers the bees loved.  When I ran through the grass and disturbed them, the bees struck back.  I pulled out stingers and complained  during the swelling and healing and itching process.  It was not fun.

I don’t go barefoot in the weeds anymore and I’ve grown to appreciate the bees.  When I was a kid I didn’t know these tiny critters were such a big deal.  But they contribute substantially to our economy.  Honeybee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States alone.  They’re vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. 

Honeybee on Daisy; Photo:KFawcett

Honeybee on Daisy; Photo:KFawcett

But over the past few decades their numbers have dwindled significantly.  They aren’t thriving like they did even ten or fifteen years ago, and their demise has been blamed especially on pesticide overuse and a reduction in natural forage places. 

The wild things need weeds.  Not crab grass or poison ivy, but weeds that flower.   White clover and dandelion and goldenrod.  Honeysuckle.  Wild violets.  Morning glory. 

Honeyvine Milkweed in bloom; Photo:KFawcett

Honeyvine Milkweed in bloom; Photo:KFawcett

We don’t use pesticides on our yard so we have all kinds of wild stuff.  The honeyvine milkweed appears every spring beneath the holly bushes and twines its way up and across the tops and blooms in July with clusters of tiny white flowers that release a sweet scent.  For a long time, the honeybees had almost disappeared from our yard.  But this vine suddenly grew one spring and the white clover took root on the lawn and the bees appeared as if by magic. 

*****

Here are five fun facts about honeybees:

1)  Bees collect 66 pounds of pollen per year, per hive.  That’s a lot of pollinating!

2) Honeybees are not native to the US.  They were brought by the early settlers from Europe.

3)  It takes two million blossoms to make a pound of honey.

4)  Royal jelly is the substance that turns an ordinary bee into the queen bee.  It’s made of pollen chewed and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in nursing bees’ heads.  The bee chosen to be queen eats only this royal jelly and grows to one and a half times larger than ordinary bees and lives forty times longer.

5)  Research is being done in numerous places to study this royal jelly as many believe it can be used to treat various diseases and retard the aging process.

For more information about honeybees, check out the Back Yard Beekeepers Association.  Of, if you’re thinking of letting your lawn-that-looks-like-a-green-carpet go to weeds, have a look at Nancy Gift’s A Weed by Any Other Name: The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don’t Plant. 

 

 

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