Why Keep Bees?

            Before a person begins a new time consuming hobby or activity, it makes sense to identify the reasons for doing so. Being able to justify the expense of both time and money makes a hobby even more enjoyable. Beekeeping is an enjoyable hobby all by itself. However, there are several other factors that make beekeeping very rewarding and beneficial not only to the beekeeper, but to nature and even society in general.

            When talking about honeybees the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, honey. We’ll talk about honey later. First we’ll talk about pollination. By far the most important function performed by honeybees is pollination. Depending on where you look you might find different numbers, but generally bee are responsible for pollinating about one third of the food we eat. Bees also provide an economic value of 10-15 billion dollars in the US. Additionally, about 75% of the world’s flowering plants need pollinators to reproduce. So it’s obvious that bee are an integral part of our environment. Without these essential pollinators we would be in a world of hurt, which leads to the next reason to keep bees, they’re slowly dying.

            In 2015, roughly 40% of all bee colonies in the US died. That’s almost half of all bee colonies gone. There are several reasons for these losses, and they compound on one another. Pesticides have caused some of these losses. Farmers use pesticides to keep damaging bugs off of their crops. Unfortunately, sometimes bees fall victim to these same pesticides. There has also been a surge in diseases and parasites. There are myriad parasites that can plague colonies, causing large losses if not managed and kept under control. Additionally, monoculture seems to have led to losses as well. Bees need diversity in the availability of vegetation in order to be as healthy as possible. Some farms that plant tens of thousands of acres of a single crop create what is essentially a food desert. So, keeping and properly managing bee’s helps to ensure the world will continue to enjoy the benefits provided by healthy pollinators.

            Now onto honey. Everyone knows that honey is a sweet treat produced by the bees. What most people don’t know, however, is that not all honey is created equal. When you go to the store and buy commercially produced honey you aren’t always getting exactly what you think you are. Honey you find at the store has typically been heated and strained. This is done to remove particulates and to prevent the honey from crystalizing. Unfortunately, heating and straining also removes very important nutrients, antioxidants, and enzymes. In contrast, honey direct from the hive is loaded with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidant, phytonutrients, and local pollens. Also, there have been instances where commercial honey operations have been caught “cutting” their packaged honey with things like corn syrup. So it’s obvious that locally harvested honey is superior to what is generally available commercially.

            Finally, beekeeping is a fun way to open a window directly into nature. A beehive is considered a superorganism. The inner workings of the hive and the behavior of the bees is fascinating and the subject of scientific study. It is almost mesmerizing to see the bees communicate with each other, or witness how they swarm and find a new home. You’ll soon realize that bees aren’t simply silly little bugs. There is evidence that humans have been keeping bees for somewhere around 9000 years. Humans learned a long time ago the benefit of having bees around. The honey they produce never spoils and can be used for medicinal and antioxidant properties. Honey was often used to treat wounds and sicknesses. Honey can also be used to make alcohol. It is basically a type of wine, and is known as mead. Mead is relatively easy to make and can be combined with fruits to make several variations of mead.

           Hopefully by now you have found at least one aspect of beekeeping that piques your interest. I have only skimmed the surface in this post. One can dive down even further into any of the subjects I have just covered. In fact, there are whole books written on some of the single points I have made in this post. So whether you love honey, want pollinators for your garden, or simply want to do your part to preserve one of natures most prolific pollinators, find a beekeeper near you and start learning. You can also follow along with my posts and learn along the way.

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