The Natural Life of Bees

When most of us first learned about the birds and the bees we were given the barest buzz of the whole winged story. It seems that these loyal and hardworking furry creatures are dying (literally) to teach us more about the need for open fields, plant species survival, economics, and local farming.

The wild honeybee population has dropped about 90% in the last 50 years and managed honeybee colonies by about 66%. Beekeepers in 24 states have reported colony collapse disorder (CCD). Environmentalists and gardeners, biologists and futurists are looking at the plight of the honeybee for indicators of planetary health. Some of the factors that are affecting the pollinator decline are:

• Urbanization - Loss of habitat for wild bees and limited fields to host bee hives

• Pests - Rrapid global transfer of parasites and diseases from international bee commerce.

• Genetically modified crops created with built-in insect-resistant characteristics.

• Monoculture single crop agribusiness requiring huge amounts of bee colonies for pollination, and making land barren after blooming by concentrating on one high producing crop.

• Agribusiness limiting plant species and genetic diversity of plants that the pollinators fed from.

• Long term and short-term agribusiness pesticide misuse, community mosquito and gypsy moth control, and weed killers used in individual homes to achieve all-grass lawns.

Wild colonies of bees are very rare in many parts of Western Europe. “Without the beekeeper the honey bee could not survive and pollination—and hence food production—would be threatened.”*

 

FOOD CHAIN 101

“At least 33% of the food we eat in this country depends upon the pollination of natural bees out in the wild,” says Neva Whetzel, co-owner with her husband Dennis, of Shenandoah Valley’s Golden Angels Apiary “Many farmers also rent bees for pollination services, since they are particularly important for certain crops, such as almonds, apples, cranberries, cucumbers and melons. Think of the changes in lifestyle and food choices if bees are not readily available and the increase in produce costs if they need to be continually transported around to pollinate crops. Bees involve so much more than just honey!”

You can help keep beekeepers in business:

1. Buy local and enjoy a higher quality honey than the lower grade honey which comes from lower cost production countries, such as China and Argentina. The oil cost used in getting the honey here makes “cheaper” honey a false savings. Do we want to become dependent on another country for our food supply? We already know how well that’s worked with oil.

2. Garden to host pollinators and maintain your lawn without harmful pesticides.

3. Plant heritage plant species instead of hybridized big-box store plants.

4. Buy locally raised organic produce, meats, and dairy as much as possible and eat in season to support local farms and sustainable farming methods.

5. Contact your congressperson to support CCD research as part of the Farm Bill.**

 

IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

According to The Healthy Taste of Honey: Recipes Anecdotes & Lore, a charming book by Larry Lonik, honey is mostly composed of fruit and grape sugars, rather than sucrose. Honey's sugar content is also varied in that honey contains eight different sugars. These are all metabolized at relatively different rates, which prevents dramatic, rapid rises in blood sugar.

Honey nourishes your body with trace minerals such as silica, iron, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, while sugar has no nutritional value, is addictive, and leads to many diseases. Raw, unfiltered honey contains enzymes to help digestion and is actually predigested by the worker bees so that it is easily assimilated into our bodies. Honey is a pure, unprocessed food that adds a variety of complex sweet flavors to our palates.

Interestingly, hay fever and environmental pollen allergies can be substantially decreased with the consumption of one teaspoon of local wildflower honey a day. The pollen-derived honey desensitizes your body to the pollen previously seen as an invader.

Golden Angels Apiary manage 500 colonies of bees in the Shenandoah Valley and supply delicious bulk and jarred honeys, including summer thistle, meadow clover, orange blossom, Virginia wildflower, tulip poplar, and tupelo honey. Their unfiltered honey removes only large pieces of beeswax, leaving a nutritionally whole product containing pollens, minerals, and enzymes. As the sweetness of summer draws toward its end, here are few ways to use honey for simply delectable meals.

 

Sweet ‘n Hot Grilling Marinade

4 thin sliced center-cut pork chops, 4-ounce chicken filets or 6-ounce filets firm fish of choice (tuna, salmon etc)

¼ cup apricot or pineapple preserves

1 tbsp. wildflower honey

1 tsp. chipotle sauce

lemon pepper to taste

Marinate fish or meat in mixture of preserves, honey, chipotle sauce, and lemon pepper for 30 minutes in fridge. Cook on the upper shelf of your grill on medium high heat for 3 minutes per side. then on low for 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness. You can baste the fish with the marinade every time you turn the filets over, but not if you’re using meat unless the marinade has been parboiled after marinating.

 

BBQ Vegetables

Whisk together a little honey, mustard. and chipotle sauce with ketchup and you’ve made honey barbeque sauce! Toss with chunks of peppers, sweet onions, and broccoli for an easy vegetable accompaniment. Grill on a rack on the bottom shelf of the grill.

 

Blueberry-Apple Cobbler

This blueberry-apple crumble recipe makes use of the last of the summer’s luscious crop of blueberries and the first of autumn’s apples sweetened with honey. Blueberries are so high in antioxidants that they are considered super-foods. We know that blueberries are great for your eyes and promote urinary tract health. One study at Rutger’s University also found blueberries to be toxic to leukemia cells.

1 quart apples diced

1 pint blueberries

1/3 - ½ cup honey

2 tsp. lemon juice

1  tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. cardamom

 

½ cup spelt flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

¼ cup finely chopped walnuts

5 tbsp. butter

½ tsp cinnamon

¼  tsp. biosalt

 

Spray a 9-inch pie dish or 8-inch square glass dish with cooking spray. Mix first eight ingredients in bowl and pour into dish. Combine next five ingredients with pastry cutter or fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle on top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

 

Sources:

The Silence of the Bees by Hannah Nordhaus, High Country News online March 19, 2007

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollinator_decline

** For more information on where to buy or produce your own local honey or lobby for CCD research log on to www.tidewaterbeekeepers.net

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