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spring!

Finally! The sun is back, and with it the insects and the birds, frogs and toads, and rabbits and squirrels.

The bees are around again, too. The honey bees at the farm have been pretty active on warm days recently. Sometimes I hear them buzzing when I walk by the hive area, or see one or two in the greenhouse as I work. Meanwhile, in internet-land, there are many articles circulating about neonicotinoids (a type of water-soluble pesticide commonly used on cereal crops and turf) and other issues that affect bees negatively, mainly in the form of what’s been called colony collapse disorder (read: hives dying).

Some things I’ve noticed about the conversation in these articles is that honey bees are the focus, and rarely other, native pollinators. Another thing I’ve noticed is that the conversation doesn’t look at how bees are kept or cared for when people use them for honey. I think these are two big gaps in the discussion.

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to the bees!

Last week for our education day we had a honey bee workshop. I don’t know much about honey production or bees in general, so I was interested to learn some stuff. There is a woman in town who has hives here and at some other farms, so she came to talk to us and show us around the hives.

The first thing I noticed was how gentle the bees were. They were very docile; I don’t think any of us got stung, and I felt comfortable being in the midst of a bunch of them hovering around. Honey bees apparently rarely sting because they die after losing their stingers. Wasps on the other hand don’t lose their stingers and can sting repeatedly.

It was also interesting to see them interact with each other. All the females besides the queen (“worker bees”) gather pollen which they feed the males (“drones”) with, as well as the larvae. The girls will taste the pollen that is brought back by other bees to see what plant it came from. We also saw a couple of bees hatch out of their tiny comb wombs, and they were checked on and cleaned by the other adult bees. The young ones were fuzzy compared to the older ones.

Another thing we talked about was pollination and how animals like bees allow us to grow food. Most of what we grow – apples, squash, peppers, etc. will not produce fruit unless they’re pollinated, as with many other plants that produce seeds. They can’t breed without being pollinated, and will not bear fruit if they aren’t pollinated, so we depend greatly on pollinators like honeybees to grow food for ourselves. This is one of the main reasons why people are concerned over the declining honeybee populations in canada & the USA.

I didn’t know much about this issue until a couple of weeks ago, when some of us went to the Bookshelf to see the movie Queen of the Sun, which addresses what’s called colony collapse disorder (in the US; in Canada the disappearance of hives and colonies is attributed to existing threats to honey bees that have recently grown stronger). Some things the disappearance of bees is attributed to are monoculture, pesticide use and diseases. It was very interesting and enlightening both to watch the film and to discuss this topic during our bee workshop. I have a much bigger appreciation for pollinators now – it can seem like humans have absolute control over things like agriculture, and in actuality we rely so much on these little critters. If they were to disappear completely, we’d have to figure out how to hand-pollinate many of our food crops.

here are a couple of sites of note:

Pollination Guelph

Pollinator-friendly Gardening

Colony Collapse Disorder

Pollinators and Agriculture

Shout out to my former roommate Sarah who used to work with these bees and taught me about varroa mites!