Bees work hard to make honey. A bee visits 50 to 100 flowers per trip to take nectar and pollen to the hive. In her lifetime, about six to eight weeks, a worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Thousands of bees in a hive fly more than 55,000 miles and visit about 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey —about the amount one American will consume in a year.
Honey may have some health benefits. It’s been said to help heal some burns. It’s thought to increase the “good bacteria” in the intestinal tract. It’s used as a cough suppressant. There are many other health claims. (Just be cautioned that it is not for children under 1 year old, and some people are allergic to it.)
We depend on honeybees for much of our food. They pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops nationwide each year, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts, according to Zac Browning of the American Beekeeping Federation.
“Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” Browning said.
Local farmers benefit from the bees pollinating squashes, apples, avocados and raspberries as well as vegetables and flowers to produce seeds.
For the past several years, bees have been on the decline nationwide.
According to Eric Mussen of UC Davis, 25 percent of beekeepers continue to lose 40 percent to 100 percent of their colonies annually. Adult bees abandon the hive and leave behind the queen, her brood, and the honey and pollen. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, no one knows for certain what is causing it, but likely factors include pathogens, parasites, pesticides and malnutrition. Any spraying of pesticides should be done with caution, if at all, so it prevents killing the bees.
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Five years ago, beekeepers in the county lost some bees to the Varroa and tracheal mites, but nothing as dramatic as in other parts of the country, according to Guy Tingos of the Ag Commissioners Office. Lack of a food source and the mites continue to be the biggest threats locally.
We can help bees by growing plants such as sage, toyon, buckwheat, fennel, California poppy, acacia, blackberry, raspberry, Manzanita, eucalyptus, plum, peach, nectarine, pepper trees and others.
Not spraying pesticides and becoming backyard beekeepers also helps. The City of Santa Maria allows up to four beehives in the typical residential tract home, but the county does not. You must own a very large property. If you’d like this changed, you need to contact your county supervisor.
Bees swarm when a beehive gets too big. The queen bee and about half the workers will leave the hive and look for a suitable place to relocate. The remaining workers set about producing new queens, one of which will take over egg-laying responsibilities.
If bees swarm in your yard, wait a few days. They may just be stopping over on their way to a better place. But for the sake of our food and plants that depend on them, do not kill the bees. Instead, call the Ag Commissioner’s office at 681-5600 if you’re looking for a beekeeper to remove them. The state requires all beekeepers to register with the county.
If you’d like to learn about beekeeping, Jeremy Rose, president of California Bee Company, holds occasional four-hour classes in the field. Contact him at email@example.com or call 540-4502. Archie Mitchell teaches a four-week class on Saturdays starting Oct. 13. You can find information in the Allan Hancock College Spectrum.