Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest

26
April
2008

“Call of the Honeybees”

Flowers, pollination, nectar, devotion to a queen, their utter busyness and single mindedness, the efficiency of their operation; a piece of warm toast slathered with melting butter and sweet honey. Sweet honey. We love most things about honeybees, especially the honey part. We write poems about them. They conveniently appear in our language when we need an idiomatic phrase like the bees knees, busy as a bee, a bee in your bonnet, sting like a bee, the birds and the bees . . .

On the other hand, we’re obsessed with their ability to sting, and our caring about their survival has been tempered with this edginess we may have about their presence among us. Perhaps we’ve been slow to acknowledge their duress. Growing food is impossible or impossibly complicated without bees, so understanding their stress, demonstrated in the widespread collapse of colonies, is important. This informative and short video will get you to thinking about it all and perhaps answer a question or two.

The Great Sunflower Project provides an opportunity to participate in gathering information about bees. You’re invited to help out.

Insect Conservation Fact Sheet has a lot of bee information including the following amazing observations about tomato pollination: Although the tomato plant is self-fertile, flowers must be vibrated by wind or
bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. To achieve the most effective
pollination, the flower must be vibrated at a specific frequency to release the
pollen. Honey bees are unable to vibrate the tomato flower in this way, but
bumble bees and other native species can.

Studies show that visitation by native bees increases fruit set by approximately
45 percent in Sungold cherry tomatoes, relative to wind pollination. Bee visita-
tion also results in larger tomatoes. On average, the weight is nearly doubled.
When native bees visit and vibrate these flowers, they not only cause the pol-
len to release, but they also often cross-pollinate the plants. This data suggests
that the extra yield caused by bee visitation is due to both of these factors.


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2 Responses »

  1. Have you spotted bees in the Puget Sound area this spring? I don’t know if I’m completely under the influence of the media or what but I don’t think I’ve seen any in my garden yet. Has been cold, of course, but I wonder.

  2. We do have Mason bees doing their thing and we’ve seen bumblebees, no honeybees yet. My grandmother was an avid, knowledgeable gardner/farmer who used a free hand with DDT and Roundup when it was ‘acceptable’ to do so. In her nineties she lamented the prolific crop spraying in eastern Washington and her own contribution to that when she had to begin hand-pollinating her tomato crop with a feather. There were almost no bees, and many fewer birds than decades before.
    Maybe we need find out what our honeybees need and then give it to them!

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