Everyone knows how much I love Halloween (or any other occasion that affords me the opportunity to dress up livestock and go to market). So far, I’ve managed a spider, a wolf – thanks to the generous help of one of Bethesda’s extremely talented customers, a reindeer, a few very young ones wearing the worn out gray wool sock with the red top that has been repurposed as a critter coat, and this year’s shenanigans, a honeybee.
As much as I wanted the ensemble to segue as a teaching moment between farmers and customers, the lure of something very cute and fuzzy completely overrode what I wanted to tell my customers I’ve been learning about bees.
Bees are something I have never kept. They’ve always been in the periphery; someone else’s work. When I had mentioned this to a fellow farmer during the fabrication of Purl’s costume, she suggested I give it a try knowing my enjoyment of animal behavior and carpentry. “Think of all that wonderful honey,” she said cinching the deal on my curiosity before adding, “Now you have a bee suit, get building.”
Indeed, the tools are idle with the completion of a set of portable pens. If I begin now they’ll certainly be done by spring when the bees get busy. My favorite designs so far are the Mason Jar Hive and Top Bar Hive, both well within my capabilities.
But the bees themselves, their history in America, their critical necessity to modern agriculture and the perilous issues facing the apiary (beekeeping) community today are fascinating. Here’s my chance to share with Central Farm Market customers how important bees are to the cultivation of your favorite fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries and cherries which are completely dependent upon pollination by honeybees.
Oddly enough, honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought here in 1622 from Europe by the early settlers. Now three out of four crops grown for food in the United States are dependent upon honeybees for pollination, an estimated $24 billion dollars each year to the U.S. economy.
Walking into the greenhouses of vendors who grow produce to maturity inside and you’re bound to see cardboard boxes with holes scattered about. These are purchased pollinators who have only one job to do—spread pollen.
Here’s the fun part about bees: anyone can do it! “This is perfect!” exclaimed a customer as he spied my big bee on Sunday. He was planning to spend his afternoon working with the two hives he keeps in his back yard. No sprawling farm in the country needed.
Unfortunately, over a quarter of bee species in the world are experiencing a steep decline due to a variety of factors – loss of habitat, climate change, disease, parasites and pesticides.
Here are some ideas of how you can help save the bees.
- Plant bee-friendly landscaping that includes flowers and flowering herbs.
- Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn and garden. White clover and dandelions are not weeds, they are bee food!
- Buy raw honey from local beekeepers and farmers. Or better yet, try your hand at keeping your own bees.
- Bees drink a lot of water. Consider a small bowl of water with stones for the bees to land on and drink.
- Understand that honeybees are not aggressive and out to sting you. They are vegetarians, not bloodsuckers.
- Remember, hives become inactive in colder weather which makes honey seasonal. Stock up now for the winter now.
Honey is available at all Central Farm Markets locations.