Why keep bees? Part 1
Just the thought of having a real live beehive in their yard will send some people running and screaming. But there are those of us that welcome the little honeybees and their cousins. Maybe the first question should be: “Why are bees so important?”
Honeybees have been around for millions of years, long before humans. Early civilizations learned quickly that honeybees can provide a great source of food. In some cultures, they were even considered as gods. The ancient Egyptians believed that the bees were the tears of their sun god, Ra. The Egyptians also buried their dead with jars of honeycomb so that the departed would have food on their anticipated afterlife journey. They were also quick to note the correlation between the bees and crop yields. Royalty at the time would appoint their own personal beekeepers so the coveted liquid gold would be available to them.
Today, after many years of study and research, we have determined that the honeybee is responsible for approximately one-third of all the food we consume. Bees pollinate over 70 percent of the food crops grown in the world. There are other pollinators, but none are as effective as the honeybee. Some foods are 100 percent dependent on bees and would cease to exist if they disappeared (e.g. almonds, apples, blueberries and avocados). Most other crops such as oranges, melons, strawberries, onions, okra, alfalfa, etc. would not disappear, but the yearly crop yields would be dramatically reduced.
Did you notice that alfalfa was on the list? We don’t eat alfalfa directly, but much of our four-legged livestock does. So without bees, we could actually see a decrease in red meat and milk production as well. Grains made available for other meat sources such as pork and chicken would also be in short supply. So it’s important to note that the disappearing honeybee can have far-reaching effects beyond the simple flowers and fruits.
There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Whether or not Einstein actually said this is arguable, but the statement has some truth to it. Severe consequences will result from the bees’ demise.
In part two of my article, we’ll talk about the benefits of beekeeping. Look for that in next month’s issue.
For more information, please visit us at browardbees.org.?
Dan Novak is treasurer of the Broward Beekeepers Association and presents to schools, private groups and at public events. He is a member of a local team that performs bee rescues and is working on his master rating in the University of Florida Master Beekeeper Program. Novak got his start in beekeeping when he was asked to eradicate a bee colony living quietly in a fence. After seeing how calm and gentle they were, he decided to adopt them instead.