What’s da Buzz: No Bee Biz


Forlorn, I stand in the garden on a warm summer morning. Flowers–of three different beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn–are open and ready for business. Or buzziness, I might say. Except in our garden this week, there’s no buzz.

I even planted buckwheat for its white flowers to lure pollinators. It isn’t working.

And doggone it, the only consistent drone of wings I heard as the sun rose over the ridge and warmed my back were the always-frantic yellow jacket wasps zipping and zinging in all directions, including down invisible among the large leaves of the hubbard squash. I don’t know if they were involved in helping the squash bees with the job of spreading pollen (my guess is NOT) but they were doing SOMETHING there in the garden.

Even pesky yellow jackets serve some ecological service, I grudgingly admit as I follow their flight into and out of a hole on the bank just the other side of the garden fence. My first inclination was to spray them; my second was to leave them alone and let them do whatever it is they are destined to do in this world. For now, at least.

But what I’d rather have than yellow jackets are honey bees. European honey bees–a beleaguered species whose long term fate remains in precarious balance against our ignorance, our corporate agriculture and our tendency to replace forest and meadow with shopping malls or interstates, and to poison weed or wasp on a whim.

We’ve paved paradise. Where in this entire valley, save for the basswoods now blooming, does a honey bee go to find flowers except a garden like ours? And the most I’ve seen at any one time is two. Thank goodness for the roadside bloomeries, probably one of the best sources of flower blooms in Floyd County.

So when there were many dozens of honeybees in the Zion church meadow, yes, I was thrilled.

This one, you see, is about ready to go back to the hive (I thought about trying to follow, but it could be a mile or more away). His tibial depression called a “pollen basket” or corbicula is filled with the pollen groomed from its hairy body, pressed together in an aerodynamic ball.

But in serving its own purpose of feeding the hive, pollen grains (and the sperm nucleus each tiny sculpted grain contains) was carried by this bee from flower to flower (of the same species) to find the sticky stigma of the female flower parts.

From there, it will eat a tube (sometimes several inches–think about corn silks which serve this purpose) until it finds and fertilizes an egg. And a fertile seed is born, as often as not, inside a protective shell, this inside a sweet or otherwise attractive package we call a fruit or vegetable. What a neat system–except it’s not working so well anymore.

We need the honeybee, folks. Colony Collapse is not just a tree-hugger’s silly worry. We should all be concerned. And plant the kinds of flowers and habitat that gives what’s left of the pollinators a fighting chance.

So what do you say? Put on your costumes, Bee Boys and Girls, and do the waggle dance. Dude.

Zemanta Pixie

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. My dad was a beekeeper and once kept several hives. He was very concerned with what is happening with the bees as we all should be. When he became ill with the ravenous cancer that crept down his once strong legs and took his life, we would spend hours riding the country lanes in search of the white Sourwood blossoms high in the trees.

    Look for the white blossoms, he would say…
    high in the Sourwood trees…
    They are a favorite of the honey bees…
    and makes the very best tasting honey.

  2. One thing of interest is that different types of honey have properties that improve your health in different ways. The darker honeys like buckwheat honey have strong antioxidant properties.

    Some research has shown that certain types of honey are good for wound healing.

    Some researchers from Penn State have recently shown that Buckwheat honey is better then the OTC children’s cough medicines for children’s cough. There is a web site that talks about this, and gives lots of research to help people understand how honey effects health. Check out http://www.honeydontcough.com/

    Thanks for you blogs,