Commercial bee-keeping is big business. Bees zigzag across the country like the Rolling Stones on tour in 18-wheeler Kenworths, pollinating crops from California to Florida. A Cornell University study conducted in 2000 revealed that nationally, the value of bee pollination is $14.7 billion annually.
How to plant, garden, and farm in ways that support local bees.
Plant for Pollen
Plant plants that bees love: blueberries, onions, broccoli, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, zucchinis, melons, and squash, and herbs like lavender. Heirloom varieties and polleny-type flowers are key. Pussywillows are an especially good plant to keep around for honeybees’ survival, as they are the first to give pollen in the spring.
Keep Them Safe
Keep bees out of harm’s way: Cut back or eliminate pesticides and fertilizers (even organic ones) altogether. Even some composts contain the insecticide Imidacloprid, which is toxic to bees and the soil.
Let the weeds live. Dandelions and clover are popular with bees. Clover not only feeds the busy bee, but it is a legume that collects nitrogen and makes it available for grass—which means less fertilizer. Tim Colon, Vineyard Haven apiarist, says, “Don’t trim the privet.” Let those blossoms grow—they’re great for the bees.
Buy Local Honey
Enjoy the sweet, raw stuff and the benefits it may provide in quelling pollen allergies.
Stop the Insecticides
Beware the “treated” seed: Many crop seeds are now coated with Clothianidin, an insecticide that’s been banned in Germany because of its possible connection to large bee die-offs. This chemical causes the entire plant to become toxic to bees and all other insects that may feed on it. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer for full information.
Mulch With Care
Because native bees tunnel and live in the soil, they can be blocked by heavy layers of woodchips or plastic liners. Use an organic mulch, and even the semi-rotted stuff is better, for plants, water and bees.
For more info, go to www.biobees.com
It's All in the Genes
Queen perfection is difficult to define. Ask a dozen beekeepers what they want from a queen and you’ll get more than two dozen answers back. Apiarists’ philosophies, personal preferences, and desired outcomes all come into play when rearing local queens and bee stock. Increasing honeybees’ biodiversity specific to wherever you are is what raising local bees is all about. It doesn’t matter if you’re here or anywhere. You want to get bees to do well in your locale. And it’s all a little trickier when done chemical-free.
Here are some genetic qualities that raisers of queens may select for to pass on to their genetic stock—the workers (her daughters) and the drones (her sons). Breeding strongly for some characteristics may diminish or overshadow others.
High Egg-Laying Production
From late winter to late spring, depending on weather, food, and the readiness (or lack there of) of comb prepared by workers, a productive queen will lay 1,200 – 1,800 per day. Apiarists also select for the queen’s facility at tapering off brood-rearing in the fall.
Good Comb Building
Workers are responsible for preparing the best comb in a timely fashion to receive the queen’s eggs.
Even Brood Layout
In response to a well-built comb, a good queen will fill out the frame evenly for the best survival rate of her offspring.
If the queen and her colony overwinter well , it means that they do not consume a lot of their stores quickly. For example, the Carniolan breed of bees requires less honey stores over the winter, clustering in smaller groups, as opposed to the Italian breed which clusters in larger groups, hence requiring more honey stores.
A good queen passes on to her workers the genetic resistance to brood diseases, varroa mites, and tracheal mites.
Workers that are mildtempered produce a minimum number of sting counts and are not as likely to swarm. However, the Carniolan breed is prone to swarming, but it’s also prone to be mild-tempered.