Oh honey honey

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HONEY! GLORIOUS HONEY! It’s the delicious golden substance that we love and adore. We spread it on toast, add it to tea and even slather it on our bodies.

Honey is pretty much as old as time itself. One of the first records of honey being used comes from a rock painting found in Valencia, Spain, dating back 8000 years ago! In this rock painting, a person is shown robbing a wild honeybee colony by smoking out the bees and opening up the hive with a rock. Jumping forward in time, the ancient Egyptians were also found to use honey, as evidenced by the pieces of honey comb found in Egyptian tombs.

Today, honey is widely found on any supermarket shelf, but we often take it for granted. When bee populations decline, honey production declines too. If bees were wiped out we would be left without honey, but also left without an outstanding variety of fruit, vegetable and plant species. Most people don’t appreciate the great role honey-makers have and the effort it takes to make honey. They also don’t appreciate all the benefits of honey itself, and that one day we may not have this beautiful and rich substance anymore.

WATCH: HOW BEES MAKE HONEY

THE BENEFITS OF HONEY: 

You’re probably getting hungry for some honey right about now? Not only is honey delicious, but it also has a range of amazing benefits. But remember, it is best to use raw and organic honey.

  1. It boosts your immune system – Organic honey is loaded with a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that can protect your body in times of sickness. Take 1-2 teaspoons of honey by itself or mixed with a tea to soothe a cough or sore throat.
  2. It is nutritious – What a treat that honey is tasty and beneficial! Honey is found to contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Swapping sugars for honey provides you with a more nutritious diet.
  3. It helps you lose weight – Great news! A sweetener that isn’t bad for you. Drinking warm water with honey and lemon first thing in the morning is believed to cleanse your liver, remove toxins and get rid of fat from your body.
  4. It clears your skin – Honey contains anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties which are great for removing blemishes from your skin. At night, apply a small dab of organic honey to a spot and leave it to work its magic overnight. Wash it off in the morning and with regular use you should notice clearer skin!
  5. It soothes indigestion – The antiseptic properties in honey can relieve the acidity in the stomach and alleviate digestion. Taking 1-2 teaspoons before a big meal can help combat indigestion, or if you already have it, try adding honey and lemon to a glass of warm water.
  6. It boost your energy levels – The natural sugars found in honey provide a great source of calories and energy for your body. Try adding a tablespoon of honey to your water bottle during workouts and see if you notice a difference in your energy levels.
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Be mindful about bee threats

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There are many different threats, both human and natural, that are detrimental to bee populations. These were briefly mentioned in a previous post, but this post will go into more detail about the various threats and what can be done to reduce or stop them.

HUMAN THREATS:

  • Urbanisation – Urban developments and the growth of cities results in a decrease in bee populations due to the destruction of natural environments. To combat this threat, a variety of flowering plant species that are favoured by bees should be planted in urban and suburban environments to increase bee populations in these areas. Urban beekeeping can also tackle this threat as it reintroduces bee populations to urban environments.
  • Negative attitudes – Some people fear bees and view them as a threat to their safety. Due to this, wild beehives are destroyed and bees are unnecessarily killed. Bees shouldn’t be feared, and unlike wasps, they do not actively seek out humans to sting. Bees only sting, and rarely, when they feel their hive is being threatened. Bees should be celebrated and cared for as they have a great role in maintaining our natural environment. Educate others about the importance of bees and put down the bug spray. If you’re really worried about a beehive in your backyard, call up a bee removal service.
  • Agricultural industry – The agricultural industry has a massive impact on bees. It creates crop monocultures where only one or two species of plants are planted on one farm. Most of the time these plants aren’t even suitable for bees to thrive off, and the ones that are, like almonds, put bees in a stressful position as they have to be shipped in and shipped out for pollination. To reduce the threat of monocultures, farms need to start planting cover crops again. Cover crops, such as clover, alfalfa and grasses, are planted in-between crops to manage a number of things including soil erosion, soil quality and soil fertility. They are also planted to maintain diversity and wildlife, as they add one more dimension to plant diversity in farms which bees can feed from.
  • Pesticides – Harmful pesticides are widely used in the agricultural industry. They are a threat to bees because plants absorb the pesticides that are applied to them. Contact pesticides are directly sprayed onto the plant, whereas systemic pesticides are applied to the soil or onto seeds and move up the plants stem, leaves, nectar and pollen. A bee can experience harmful affects or even die if it crawls over the infected surface of a plant or ingests its pollen and nectar. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide, which can result in disorientation or death in bees. To combat this threat, you should avoid all pesticides when gardening at home and purchase organic, pesticide free fruit and vegetables to support the ecological and pesticide-free agricultural industry. Signing petitions like this one, to ban the use of pesticides, is also beneficial to stop this threat.

NATURAL THREATS:

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  • Parasites – The Varroa destructor mite is one of the worst parasites to affect bees. They are an external parasite that attaches itself to the back of bees and weakens the bee by sucking hemolymph, the blood-like fluid in the bees open circulatory system. A significant infestation of the mite will lead to the collapse of a bee colony as most bee species are defenceless to the mite. Originally, the mite came from Central-Asia, but it has spread globally to parts of Europe and the Americas possibly because of relaxed border control regulations. Thankfully the mite has yet to infect Australian bees, but we still need to maintain tough border control regulations to ensure that our bees stay healthy and mite free.
  • Diseases – Diseases such as Foul Brood and Nosema are harmful to bee populations. Foul Brood is caused by a spore-forming larvae, where young larvae ingest the spores from their food. The spores feed and grow off the larvae and eventually kill them. Nosema is a small fungus that infects bees and can result in reduced honey yield, dwindling populations and death. Unlike the case with the Varroa mite, these diseases can be easily treated with good management and proper medication. However, in some cases, entire hives must be destroyed.

PART TWO: Urban beekeeping – A how to guide

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 3.39.26 pm In part one of this post, you learned what urban keeping is and what its benefits are. This post is a continuation of that, guiding you on how to become an urban beekeeper yourself! First, you must consider several factors before starting. These are:

  1. Vandals – Are there vandals in your area that will pose a threat to your bees? If so, it may be wise not to install a hive.
  2. The temperament of bees – It is best to avoid aggressive strains of bees and opt for more passive strains.
  3. Attitude of neighbours –  Have you spoken to your neighbours about the possibility of having a backyard hive? Are their attitudes positive or negative towards this idea? If negative, it may be best to install the hive at a community garden or in a friends backyard.
  4. Is it legal? – Is urban beekeeping legal in your area? Check with your local council first before installing a hive.
  5. Beekeeping associations – Are there local beekeeping associations in your area? It would be good to join one or talk to other urban beekeepers to get advice and tips from them about urban beekeeping.
  6. Plant life – Is your garden suitable for a hive? Research what plants are best suited for your local environment and plant an abundance of these in your garden for your bees to feed from.
  7. Chemicals – Avoid spraying harmful pesticides on your garden at all costs. Not only do they harm bees, but they can harm you too.
  8. Location – Is your residence a suitable location for bees? If it is in an environment with high pollution it may be wise to consider a cleaner location for your hive. If your hive is on a rooftop, you must consider environmental factors such as strong wind and rain before installing your hive.
  9. Swarming – Swarming of bees is when the queen leaves the colony with some of her worker bees to form a new colony. Removing a swarm could be tricky if bees relocate their hive to hard-to-reach spots such as air conditioning or heating vents.
  10. Storage – Do you have enough space to store beekeeping equipment?

If you have considered these factors and assessed that you can install a hive, you are ready to begin the process of becoming an urban beekeeper! Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 3.38.01 pm

  • Firstly, you should read about safe beekeeping practices. It is also beneficial for you to attend beginner beekeeping courses, and there are many easy-to-find organisations and companies in your local area that run these courses, such as The Urban Beehive in NSW and Rooftop Honey in VIC.
  • Secondly, you should join a local or state beekeeping association or club. These clubs meet regularly and members discuss their experiences with beekeeping and provide useful information to beginners on how to get started.
  • Thirdly, you must purchase all of your protective clothing. This must be worn at all times when handling your bees. These include a beekeepers hat, veil, overalls with elastic cuffs and wristbands, beekeeping gloves and a pair of boots that will cover the ankles. It is best to for clothing to be smooth in texture and light coloured, as this is most favourable to bees.
  • Fourthly, you will also need to purchase your hive. The hive is usually made up of boxes and frames, which can be purchased as 8 frame or 10 frame. You must be careful when assembling the hive to ensure it can withstand all environmental elements. An alternative to this standard hive is the top bar horizontal hive, which is a single-storey frameless hive, believed to be a more natural form of beekeeping.
  • Fifthly, you will also need to purchase your apiary tools. A hive tool is needed to separate the boxes when opening the hive and to separate and lift out the frames. A smoker is also needed to subdue the bees before opening the hive.
  • Sixthly, you need to purchase bees. This can be done in three different ways. You could purchase a nucleus colony (a small colony) from a reputable queen rearer, you could obtain bees when they are swarming or you could purchase hives with bees already in them.
  • Seventhly, you need to register yourself as a beekeeper to your local council.
  • Lastly, you need to make sure your bees are healthy and happy. Place your hive in a good location that is surrounded by a good supply of water and a variety of different flowering plant species that bees like. It is also good to maintain a quiet, passive strain of bees, control bee swarms and to keep your neighbours happy by gifting them with a little honey every now and then.

See how easy it is to start your own hive? All it requires is a little time, research, motivation and patience!

PART ONE: Urban beekeeping – What is it?

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Urban beekeeping is steadily on the rise. But what is it, you ask? Well, as its name suggests, it is the practice of beekeeping in urban areas. But why would anyone want to keep bees in urban areas? I’ll tell you why.

People just like you are becoming more aware of the global bee decline and want to do something about it. They are turning to urban beekeeping to boost bee populations in their local area, to help bee populations become healthy again and to help the plant life in their urban environment. Bees that live in city apiaries (bee yard) are in fact healthier and more productive than bees found in the country. Their presence aids in the pollination of many different flowering plant species, and as a result of this, city dwellers can be surrounded by a lush and beautiful natural environment in their concrete world, and have a source of delicious natural honey for themselves or to sell to others.

Bees thrive in many different urban areas, such as in suburban backyards, community gardens, and rooftops of residences, schools or hotels. Urban beekeeping is both beneficial to the environment and economy, but also to yourself. It is a fulfilling and meditative practice where you have your own little natural sanctuary. Here, you feel rewarded for helping the bees but you also witness the great role bees play in our environment every day as they go out to forage for nectar and pollen and return to take care of their hive.

Urban beekeeping is easy enough for anyone to do, so join the movement of a return to self-sufficiency where you can help the environment, community and economy.

Stay tuned for part two of this post to learn how you can become an urban beekeeper!

What’s harmful to bees is harmful to me

You may be thinking “Why should I even bother helping the bees?” Well, bees actually play a huge role in our natural environment through their pollination. We often take for granted the important job bees have. You may not realise it, but bees are the reason the fruit, vegetables, nuts and plants you know and love exist. Without bees, you wouldn’t have the pleasure of enjoying all of these.

In the video, distinguished professor and entomologist Marla Spivak talks about the main multiple and interacting factors that are detrimental to the global bee decline. These are:

  • Flowerless Landscape
  • Monocultures
  • Pesticides
  • Parasites

FLOWERLESS LANDSCAPE:

Bees have been in decline since after WWII when farming practices were changed. Farmers stopped planting cover crops, including plants such as clover and alfalfa, which are highly nutritious food sources for bees. Weeds, whose flowers are another important food source for bees, were also eliminated through the use of herbicides. These practices resulted in a loss in the diversity of flowers bees feed from.

MONOCULTURES:

After WWII, farmers have also been systematically limiting the plants bees need for survival by planting larger crop monocultures. These farms became a food desert as they only grew one or two types of plants, such as wheat and soybeans. Monocultures that extend to crops bees like, such as almonds, which are a good source of protein for bees, have also had a great affect on bees. Bees have to be shipped in and shipped out in order to pollinate the almond flowers. We are planting more and more crops than the amount of bees there are, and this isn’t sustainable.

PESTICIDES: 

Pesticides are used on a large scale to combat the crop pests that are attracted to crop monocultures. Pesticides are harmful to bees as their residue is found on the pollen and nectar the feed from. Every batch of pollen has at least six detectable pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. One of the worst is the neonicotinoid insecticide. When it is used in high dosages, such as through ground application, it travels throughout the whole plant and gets into both the pollen and nectar. If a bee feeds of a plant with a high concentration of this neurotoxin, it will die. In most agricultural settings, only a smaller concentration is used. If consumed, either nothing happens or the bee may become disorientated and not know how to get back home.

PARASITES:

The Varroa destructor mite is one the worst parasites that can harm bees. They are a blood sucking parasite that attaches itself to the back of a bee, compromising its immune system and circulating viruses.

When a bee is affected by the lack of a flowerless landscape and crop monocultures, we are also affected as it impacts our agricultural and natural ecosystems by reducing the amount of foods available to us and limiting the diversity of plants that grow around us. When a bee is affected by pesticides, we are also affected because, as well as reducing the population of bees, we are also consuming plants full of pesticide. When a bee is affected by a parasite, we are affected because it reduces the number of bees we need to pollinate our crops. When a bee is harmed, we are also harmed.  

These factors show why it is important that as a global community we start to spread awareness and take action towards the issue of global bee decline. There is hope for the bees, and in two simple ways you can help them. We need to start planting bee friendly flowers to increase plant diversity and avoid pesticide contamination of these plants. These individual efforts may seem small, but they will contribute to a larger grand solution that will help fight the global bee decline.

What’s the buzz about bees?

I want everyone to raise their hands up in the air if they have ever heard of the global bee decline. That’s what I thought. Not many of you even knew that the global population of honeybees and wild pollinators was experiencing a decline. But thats ok because as your local fairy-bee godmother and founder of Bee Kind Australia, I will provide you with all the facts about the global bee decline and ways you can help our Australian bees.

You might be wondering why we should even help the bees. “They’re just pests” you mutter under your breath as you are armed with a bug swatter in one hand and bug spray in the other, but bees are actually really important to our agricultural and natural ecosystems and should be revered, rather than feared. Honeybees are necessary to our survival as one third of our food supply depends on their pollination. Without them, we wouldn’t have the diversity in fruit and vegetables that we have today, and without wild pollinators we would experience a great loss in natural plant life. There is no single factor contributing to the global decline in honeybees and wild pollinators, but it can be linked to insecticides, fungicides, parasitic mites, environmental destruction and climate change.

Luckily Australia hasn’t greatly felt the impact of the decline yet. It is still important, however, to get stuck into helping the bees and wild pollinators today so if the time ever comes when they are threatened, we will have the solutions and initiatives already in place that will help their species thrive and grow.

#BeeKindToday and keep on following this page, as well as the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts (linked in the sidebar) for facts about the global bee decline and ways you can help our Australian bees and wild pollinators.