As you go about your business tomorrow, bustling around and possibly spending much of it either looking at a screen or in a fairly artificial environment, spare a thought for something else that is bustling about. They do it day after day from first light until dusk, until they die from exhaustion, pollinating over a third of our food crops – the humble bee.
Hear the buzz? Monday is World Bee Day.Credit:Quentin Jones
Monday is World Bee Day, in case you weren’t aware. A day to celebrate and reflect on the role this tiny insect takes in our food production cycle and our wider ecosystems. With a growing (and hungry) world population and with a climate that is changing, we need to give good consideration to bees and ensure they are as future-proofed as possible.
Bees are susceptible to bushfires, floods, long patches of dry and wet weather and to chemicals used in our environment. They are also sometimes the victims of factory farming – being trucked around the country for mass pollination year-round, without natural down time over winter.
As we have seen in the media in the last year, some companies have also been mixing honey with sugar syrups and failing to inform consumers – and unfortunately the traditional “C4 sugar testing” doesn’t always pick up additives.
The best way to be sure is to buy from a local beekeeper, then you know you will be getting pure, raw honey that isn’t mixed with sugar syrup or imported blends. You may pay a little extra, but the taste difference will be worth it.
It takes a lot of effort to harvest honey, as my teenage beekeeping students will now tell you – nearly 200kg from four hives is a lot of sticky mess. Plus, imported honey has the potential to harbour diseases, and if you’re using honey outside to feed birds or animals you could unwittingly be spreading these.
I would like to point out that I am not solely asking you to appreciate the European honey bee, either – our thousands of native bees are also important pollinators of both crops and other flowering plants, sometimes even performing better as they buzz at a higher frequency which makes certain plants release their pollen more effectively.
All of these insects have vital roles to play in the continuing health of our ecosystems and the food production industry. Choosing a range of flowering plants for your garden, such as herbs, lavender, salvias, Australian natives and even allowing brassicas to go to seed all help sustain thriving populations of bees of all types.
Even containers on balconies add to the diversity of their food source.
Do not feed any tired bees you find; by all means rescue them if they’re stuck in water, but let them revive by themselves and fly home. Leaving out sugar syrup is the equivalent of feeding foraging bees junk food – plus you’ll end up with hundreds of bees at your house as they go for the easy option. You can, however, leave out little dishes of water with pebbles in during hot weather, to prevent heat stress.
So find time today to look closely at a flowering plant to see if there is a bee hard at work there, marvel at her industry and quietly tell her thank you.
Nicola Philp is a regular columnist.
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