A few weeks ago, we had the good fortune to meet Claire, a lovely lady with a small farm in Kyneton who is also an excellent apiarist. An apiarist is more commonly known as a bee keeper and good apiarists play an important role in helping sustain food sources for humans by keeping bees happy and pollinating in our environment.
We learnt a lot of cool facts about bees last weekend when we had the chance to go to the farm and open a couple of hives now that the weather is warming up (bees don't like their hives to be opened when it's less than 20 degrees Celsius or windy... much like many humans in Melbourne during our recent chilly winter!). Now I want to share my enthusiasm for bees by sharing the top 10 facts about bees and bee keeping:
- In summer, there are 60,000 bees in a hive, of which 1 is a queen, 200 are male drones and the other 59,799 are female worker bees!
- During summer the bees you see will live between 15 and 40 days... they are working so hard that they die of exhaustion! Hence the term, "busy bee".
- In winter, the bees will live for the whole season because they are inside the hive eating the honey that they were busy stocking up in summer
- Most people are more likely to be struck by lightning than killed from a bee sting
- Bees need about 1 litre of water every day to cool the hive. This is brought to the hive by the honey bee instead of honey (they can't carry both together on the same foraging trip)
- One round trip for a bee can be up to 12km!
- Every hive has a number of guard bees on duty at the entrance. These bees identify intruders and release alarm pheromones to alert other bees that it's times to defend the hive.
- Smoke is used by the bee keeper to minimise the defence behaviour mentioned in fact #7 by masking the odour of the alarm pheromones
- 80% of national bee harvest in Australia is from Eucalyptus trees and weeds provide most of the other 20% for honey production.
- Bees are sneaky! When the colony gets to big, the worker bees create a new queen behind the hive queen's back without her knowing and then when the new queen is ready, half of the hive "bee-nap" the old queen and take her to a new home to start over.
Hopefully you too now see how important bees are for our livelihood and we need to start giving back to the bees to stop the current population decline that is occurring across the world due to factors such as urbanisation that destroys their food sources, pesticides and disease. Australia is the only country where Verroa destructor, a mite that attacks honey bees has not yet landed but many apiarists believe it will eventually get here, meaning the bees are even more at risk.
How you can help...
- Plant flowers in your garden that bees love to use for food production like lavender, rosemary and daisies... we take a lot from bees so let's make their job easier by providing them with some tasty plants
- Only ever buy honey from a reputable and sustainable bee keeper. There are honey producers that take all of the honey from the bees, including layers of honey containing bee larvae (that's the eggs and babies) and feed the bees sugar water as a replacement. This means the bees get no nutritious food and become weak and die sooner; they also don't have enough honey to get through winter because too much of it is stolen. You are also better off buying raw, crystallised honey because this has not been heat treated, which can destroy most of the good nutritional qualities of the honey
- Adopt a hive! You can help fund the building of a new hive that will then be looked after by qualified apiarists. Most hive adoption programs give you back some honey each (without taking too much food away from the bees!). Himmel Brewing are starting a hive adoption program - send us a message via our contact form if you are interested
- Get a hive for your own backyard. Not only does this give bees somewhere to live, you will also be rewarded with some of your own backyard honey
- Go and join in at a course or open day at a bee keepers club - there are many of them around Melbourne
- Don't spray nasty pesticides on your garden!