Honeybees have been producing honey for over 100 million years. We rely on bees to pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of most of the world’s food. Imagine no almonds, fewer apples and strawberries, less alfalfa to feed dairy cows, and the list goes on.
Honeybees are social insects. Their colonies include a queen, drones and workers. The queen is responsible for laying eggs and the only bee in the colony that lays eggs. She is a bit larger than the other bees. Drones are the male bee. Their only job is to mate with the queen. Drones are unable to collect food or feed themselves, so as the weather gets colder, the drones are kicked out of the hive. The worker bees are all females but are unable to lay eggs. Young worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. They progress to other within-colony tasks as they become older, such as receiving nectar and pollen from foragers. Later still, a worker leaves the hive and typically spends the remainder of its life as a forager. Worker bees also collect nectar to make honey. In addition, honeybees produce wax comb. The honey produced by the bees is their food for when there is nothing to forage. It is the extra honey, not needed for the winter, that is harvested for human usage.
Currently, the bee population, both wild and domesticated, is diminishing. Many factors are influencing the decline of bees, including habitat fragmentation, increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides (which are estimated to be about 6,000 times more toxic than DDT), colony collapse disorder, and climate change.
There are actions we can take on a local level to help honeybees and other pollinators.
• Decrease or stop using items with neonicotinoids. This includes being cautious of what plants you purchase as many plants for sale have been treated with neonicotinoids. Check the plant’s tag carefully.
• Plant plants that provide food for the bees. Almond Verbena, Coral Vine, Kidneywood, Gregg’s Mist Flower, Acacia, Flame Acanthus, Fragrant Mist Flower, Salvia, Globe Mallow and native wildflowers. Consider planting in groups of 5-7, as bees are attracted to large groups of flowers.
• Plant a vegetable garden. Bees love blackberries, cantaloupe, cucumbers, gourds, cherry trees, peppers, pumpkins, squash, strawberries, and watermelons.
• Plant an herb garden. These herbs attract bees: bee balm, borage, catnip, cilantro, fennel, lavender, mints, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
• Provide watering stations. Bees need water but will drown in deep water. Provide a shallow dish with water and stones so they can get a drink and are able to get out of the water.
• Leave the bees alone. Bees that are flying about are foraging for food. If you leave them alone, they will not sting you. Don’t swat at bees as they will feel threatened and that is when they sting. Always check your yard or acreage for potential beehives prior to using yard equipment. The noise and vibration will cause bees to fell threatened. Getting rid of a hive of bees is not a do-it-yourself job. Contact a local beekeeper for advice. The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office and the City of Brownwood can help you locate beekeepers in our area.