In our last blog post, we went over a few of the different supplies that are found in beehives and how they can be beneficial to both bees and humans. We reviewed just how helpful beeswax and pollen both are when it comes to what they provide for both bees and humans. While these two extra ingredients are extremely beneficial, they are not the only ones that we use from the hive. In our post today we are going to visit three more components of the beehive, one of them being the most commonly thought of ingredient: honey. Aside from that, we will review the ways that royal jelly and propolis play a part in the honey making process and how they are used long after the hive has done its job.
In late June, the results of the largest ever field study into the effects of neonics on bees were published in the premier peer-reviewed journal Science. Framed as a watershed moment by many, the paper is likely to pressure the European Commission towards a total ban on the widely used insecticides, with a partial moratorium already in place.
Royal jelly. A majestic, sumptuous name for what is very much akin to worker bee snot.
Secreted from glands in the heads of nurse bee proles, this milky-colored, protein-rich substance is created for the sup of the newly-hatched Apis mellifera. While it is just a limited-time garnish for the ‘beebread’ (fermented pollen) and honey diet of young worker bees, the queen feeds exclusively on this luxury foodstuff.
An archipelago of volcanoes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the supposed birthplace of our old two-term president, the state of Hawaii is the most isolated population center in the world. For a heavenly stretch of years, it had miles and miles of virtually uninterrupted ocean to buffer it against the spread of pests and diseases swarming the planet elsewhere. Then came globalized man. Whether by accident (as with the coffee borer beetle) or the wayward good intent of conservationists (as with the mongoose), our bungling ways have since played havoc with the island’s natural biodiversity.
As much can be said for the varroa mite – the feature pest of our weekly blog series this past fortnight, and the rampant terror laying low domestic and feral honey bee colonies worldwide.
It is the fear scuttling about in every beekeeper’s heart. It is the ruination of livelihoods, and the grief of families. It is disease. It is death. It has, in the last fifty years, come at a hair’s-breadth away from world domination.
It is Varroa destructor, the mite of bee evil.
There is no greater threat to honey bee colonies than varroa. Even nosema comes second-place (just). Reddish-brown and crab-like, this ectoparasitic hive invader was not too long ago a relatively innocuous critter, supping on the fluids of the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) in its native territory of the east. In the mid-20th century however, returning west on the backs of honey bees originally imported to Hong Kong, the mite stole across the oceans through trade shipment routes. Across Europe, Africa, India and – first reported in Maryland in 1979, and, after an eight-year lull, Wisconsin – the United States, the mite not only spread at an alarming rate. It was found to have an incredibly pernicious affinity with the honey bee (Apis mellifera) – mankind’s sweetest friend.
It’s early April, and dusk is settling in. At odd moments throughout the day, you’ve found yourself pausing to admire the spring flowers, winking open their petals to the warming day, splashing the fields and gardens with purple crocus, butter-yellow calendula and cherry-pink milkweed.
What better time to check on the bees.
They’ve been cooped up all winter, doing little else than surviving. Or so you hope – last year, you opened the hive to find heartbreak: dozens of little bodies littering the comb, the brood chambers run afoul with the varroa mite, dread king of honey bee pests.
It’s been a long day though, and you’re famished. As your stomach growls a need, your eyes catch the fruit bowl on the dining table. Striding over, your hand reaches, hovers, grabs…