Bees Don’t Take Vacation Days By
It’s July. We know this because we can see the traffic backing up on 64 East every weekend, we can hear people splashing in the river, and our windows are melting. Many of us are heading for the ocean or the mountains to escape Richmond’s heat.
But not everyone is vacationing.
We got a note from some friends of ours up in Stafford. They run Rock Hill Honey Bee Farms, and there won’t be a vacation for them! They put their hives to work!
They are currently barnstorming Virginia, pollinating pumpkin patches. Did you think that pumpkins just sprang out of the ground? Pumpkins are like a lot of plants, and grow flowers. These flower bearing plants then produce fruit. If they’re not pollinated, you don’t get no fruit. This is true of squash, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, blueberries, etc, etc, etc.
Certain plants are considered self-pollinating, but most rely on insects and animals like hummingbirds and bats to transfer the pollen from one plant to another. Some plants, like dates, need very specific pollen. Date palms have boy trees and girl trees, and while every date family is politically correct, they need traditional mates to make little dates. Almonds are self-incompatible, meaning that a particular type of almond cannot be used to pollinate the same type of plant. We grow a lot of almonds in California, and they use over a million colonies of bees to make sure that the pollen gets spread around. They use nearly half of all of our travelling hives each year to get this done.
One of the things that we’ve done to screw the pooch when it comes to spreading the pollen is the way that we’ve engineered and planted our crops. As if our current drought were not enough, when you travel America’s major farmlands you’ll see acres and acres of the exact same crop, grown from the exact same seeds. Nature, you see, requires a bit of variety to provide some spice of life. When you go to a commercial apple orchard, many of the trees are genetic clones of a single apple, and farmers have to plant or splice in a few strays to allow the bees to get any suitable pollen. In New York, this calls for about 30,000 hives. Maine places an order each year for 50,000 hives to keep us in blueberries.
The bees at Rock Hill Honey Bee Farms are kind of like migrant workers, without the political ramifications. Guys who raise bees will often shop them out to farmers for pollinating, and the bees will follow crop cycles to make sure that everyone gets a fair shake of pollen. Bees, who do not qualify for benefits or earn minimum wage, contribute about $40 billion to our agricultural economy each year. And that’s some serious honey!
If you don’t have the bees, you have to do it by hand. How do you do this? With a bee suit like a Blind Melon video? Grab a handful of flowers and run humming through the fields? Nope. Little tiny paint brushes and cotton swabs. A little dab will do ya.
And that job stinks. That’s why we need to be nice to bees.