Bees: The rest of the story

The Spring/Summer issue of Walton Living Magazine 2017 features a story about honey bees. In this issue we are familiarized with a basic understanding of the whys and the wherefores of these incredible little creatures and the important role they play in our society. We know they make honey, we know they can sting and we know there’s a lot of them in one family, a lot of them. But, just how important are they?

Photo credit: Melanie Ann Jackson

I guess we should start from the beginning. Every spring when the weather starts to warm and the grass and leaves turn out, so do all the blooms and the blossoms from trees and weeds and flowers. In order for any plant species to survive from year to year and going forward, they have to reproduce. Yes, just like every other species God created, the male parts of a flower and female parts of the flower have to get together in order to reproduce and make babies or “seeds.” There aren’t individual male and female plants so how does this happen? It is a process called “pollination.”

According to Joel Burnsed, Walton County Extension Coordinator with UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, “pollination is the name given the process of transferring pollen from the male parts of a flower to the female parts of a flower. Honey bees are pollinators, they fly from flower to flower gathering the nectar they need and in that process, picking up pollen from the female part and delivering pollen to the male part.” Pretty darn amazing!

Honey bees pollinate the majority of crops but bumblebees are also pollinators as are butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds, moths, and what I like to call “accidental” pollinators, bats and birds. Burnsed says, “In the United States, the added value to the agriculture just from the honey bee pollination alone is more than 15 billion dollars annually, with a total of $40 billion dollars anually with all of the pollinators considered”. And according to an Economic Impact study conducted by UGA in 2014, the annual value of bee pollination here in Georgia is 36 million dollars. Burnsed also added, “wind is actually another type pollinator. The less showy a plant is such as trees, oaks, pines, here the pollination takes place by blowing the pollen through the trees to do its job”. Pollination is so important to our eco system that farms and orchards and other types of agricultue actually “rent” honey bees to pollinate their fields and crops and they are sometimes shipped across the country to do the job!

In an article written by Jeffrey Webb, area agent with UGA Horticulture, and entitled Beyond Butterflies, he writes that “pollination is essential to successful reproduction in more than 90 percent of the 250,000 flowering plant species now in existence.” The article states “pollination plays a significant role in producing more than 150 food crops in the U.S., fibers we use, medicines that keep us healthy and more than half the fats and oils in our diets. Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that the health and populations of many of our pollinators is in decline”. The article further goes on to say that “when most people hear the word ‘pollen,’ they think allergies. A recent survey showed that three quarters of the visitors to a pollination exhibit related pollen to allergies but did not recognize its role in plant reproduction. It is in fact so important that every third bite of food we eat comes from a plant that depends on insect pollination.” Burnsed added, “honey bees and other pollinators are facing a serious decline due to pesticide exposure, colony mites and viruses and the changing of their natural habitats.”

Anthony Akers, Manager of the Cedar Lake Golf Club in Loganville, says, “the EPA is eliminating certain chemicals used as pesticides and requries us as well as other commercials businesses to apply for recertification of our Commercial Pesticide Applications License every five year period. There is always new concern for the safe use of pesticides to protect humans, pollinators and plants and we are well trained.”Akers went on to say, “when using any pesticide or herbicide, we limit the amount we use when flowers are in bloom and don’t over apply chemicals to any location. We take great care to use the correct chemicals and resist spraying at certain times of the year.” Akers also added, “It’s also important to avoid windy days when spraying to make sure the chemicals go to the intended target.” We all use pesticides at times for a variety of reasons but caution is advised. Always take a little more time to read the labels on how to apply, when to apply, on what to apply, etc.

One of the biggest reasons for the honey bee decline is the shrinking of their natural habitat in our landscapes. Burnsed says, “Urbanization of America is increasing and the natural landscape is shrinking”. Referencing an article entitled Monarchs Across Georgia, Burnsed says, “Despite the importance of honey bees and other pollinators, the conversion of natural landscapes adversely affects their habitats.”

So, how can we help the pollinators? Honey bees are the largest pollinator we have and we should take care to see that we continue to provide the flowers they need so that they will continue to pollinate. Burnsed says, “from spring to midlate summer, bees need a season with an unbroken succession of blooms. Planting vitex, crepe myrtle, abelia, sage, clover and sunflower will keep nectar available to them.”

There’s much to learn about our environment, why things work the way they do and how things seem to connect with everything else in the universe. This is a good start. If we all try to do our part to save the bees, plant a few more flowers, spray the weeds after you have cut the grass and the blooms are cut off, plant trees that will blossom in the spring, there are a lot of things that can be done. We need the bees and the bees need us. We can live together and be friends, forever.

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