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The Importance of BEEing

by Dawn Oldfield, CCMGA Master Gardener

"How doth the little busy bee,
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day,
From every opening flower?"
- Isaac Watts

By the thousands, they hover in the air, diving and rising in the breeze, swaying in perfect choreography with Indian blanket, horse-mint and other wildflowers in the field. A gentle nudge and stern buzz get my attention, hinting I am too close to the hive and to move along, please. Similar to people, honeybees don't like their personal space invaded. 

Several hives of honeybees call this idyllic setting home, along with the Horacio and Shirley Acevedo family. Members of the Collin County Hobby Bee Keepers Association (CCHBA), the Acevedos, are among the 100 or so beekeepers in Collin County. 

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting with Shirley to better understand honeybees and their place in our world and enlighten me about our honey-making friend. Her passion for honeybees and education is evident as she patiently shared honeybee history and honeybee here and now with me.

We began with a crash course - Honeybee 101.

  • Propolis is a substance bees create as a caulk sealant for the hive. It is also said to be medicinal and antibacterial for bees and humans.
  • A Skep is a dome-shaped basket once used to keep bees in. With the invention of the modern-day hive, the skep is now mainly used for decorative purposes.
  • One worker bee will only produce 1/12 of a teaspoon of raw honey in her lifetime.
  • Bees are less likely to sting if you wear white. 

According to Shirley, "People have a big misunderstanding that bees will attack you or bore into your house. Usually, they are just on the move, searching for a new home or plants to pollinate. Bees are not destructive. They take advantage of existing opportunities to get into your structure."  A hole or small gap is all it takes for a colony of bees to move in and make a hive. "They usually pick places with no insulation – a very common place is between the first and second floor." 

People don't realize how valuable honeybees are to our food supply. Your 4th of July picnic wouldn't be the same without watermelon. Shortcake without berries? Cobbler without peaches? No cucumbers? No pickles. Don't even tease about the tomato! Heart-healthy California almonds are 100% dependent on honeybees. Approximately 90 crops in Texas rely on the honeybee for pollination. 

Honeybees collect from one source at a time. In Collin County, their favorite nectar sources found in fields include alfalfa, wildflowers, cotton and horse-mint. Because human encroachment is causing a loss of natural habitat, honeybees have fewer nectar sources. You can help this beneficial insect by including other favored flowers in your landscape. Consider Sunflowers, Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Zinnia, Aster, Bee Balm, Salvia, Phlox, Verbena, Chives, Lavender, and Rosemary, to name a few.
 
One-third of food in the United States is insect pollinated. 80% of that is done by honeybees. While beekeeping is one of Texas's smallest agricultural industries, Texas still ranks 4th nationally in sales of honey and other hive products, such as beeswax and pollen. Did you know there are over 300 varieties of honey?!? 

News reports have spread alarm that honeybees are in danger of extinction. According to scientists, honeybee decline or Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a worldwide problem. A beekeeper suddenly discovers where there were once thousands of honeybees in his hives only a few hundred remain. No cause has been identified, but pesticides, diseases and predators are suspects. Some commercial beekeepers have lost nearly 80% of their hives due to CCD. It's a very disturbing trend.

Honeybees tend to swarm 3-5 times per year. Late February through early August are the most common months. If you see bees, be cautious and respectful of them. A honeybee dies after it stings someone…and it knows this. They only sting to protect their home. If you have problems with bees, ask for help to move them to a new environment. Contact a local beekeeper or your AgriLife Extension Agent. 

So, the next time you swat at a honeybee, give it a second thought. She's (Yes, she. 97% of bees in the hive are female.) flying low either in search of flowers for nectar, or to pollinate, or to find a new home. Instead, grow some of their favorite plants and watch one of Mother Nature's miracles at work.
                                                           

HONEY Butter
(Source: Rachael Seida – 2008 American Honey Queen)
4 Sticks butter or margarine, softened
½ cup HONEY
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Whip butter until light and fluffy. Slowly add the HONEY and vanilla.  Adding the honey too rapidly makes the mixture lose its thick, fluffy consistency. Whip 2 to 3 minutes longer. Cover and refrigerate. Stores well.

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