Bees and Honey
Wild bee populations around the world have dwindled, and are in danger of dying out completely. This issue is becoming widely known, but it is more complicated than you might think. Without bees to pollinate our plants, our wildlife and all the food we eat is in danger, so it’s important to educate ourselves about these amazing little creatures.
Buying honey supports beekeepers, who are keeping honeybees alive. While eating honey may seem anti-bee—taking something away from the bees—it is actually one of the most pro-bee things we can do. Beekeepers need to sell their honey to be able to keep working and keep the bees alive. However, honeybees are just one type of bee, and they are domestic bees. Honeybees are like dairy cows—they are not found in the wild, just raised for a purpose by humans. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but a problem occurs when honeybees take over pollination in an area where wild bees pollinate, and threaten those wild bee populations.
This NPR article discusses the fact that there are actually many different species of bees in the wild, including a small metallic green bee. Growing bee-friendly plants without chemicals is probably the best way to support wild bees that do not produce honey for people. We want all of these bees to stick around!
Some people advocate for avoiding honey, because too many domestic honeybees are threatening wild bee populations. Another anti-honey argument is that bees are treated poorly and raised in unnatural conditions to produce honey. Limiting our use of honey and buying from local, sustainable sources is probably the best way to go. Bees are incredibly smart and interesting creatures! They communicate using complex movements, coordinating events like moving half the hive to a new pre-determined location when a new queen is born. Large, industrial honey producers do not take care to mimic bees’ natural living conditions, and they do not usually consider the environmental impact their bees have on the surrounding area.
Taking responsibly cultivated honey and other products from bees does not harm them. Making sure your honey comes from such responsible sources is important for many reasons. A few factors to consider when choosing honey are: decent conditions and treatment for the bees, ecologically responsible practices, and the quality and taste of the honey. Responsibly gathered honey can be expensive, so of course we want it to taste amazing! And in my experience, it always does.
Eating local honey has health benefits as well. Because local bees collect pollen from many local plants, the small amounts of this pollen left in the honey can act as protection against seasonal allergies in people who eat it. This effect is most pronounced with raw honey. Raw honey is unprocessed and retains more of its therapeutic qualities. Raw honey provides antioxidants and promotes bacterial balance in the body and on the skin. It also has a lovely thick texture, but it can be made runny by heating the jar in warm water.
What can we do to support bees, other than buying local honey?
Planting bee-friendly plants (without pesticides or other chemicals) in your yard or garden is an excellent way to support bees, especially wild bees. Check out this guide to bee-friendly plants by region:
Burning beeswax candles is another way to support beekeepers. Beeswax candles actually clean the air as they burn. Plus, their natural honey scent is delicious and soothing. Paraffin candles do the opposite, polluting the air that we breathe. Read more about beeswax candles here.
When bees come into contact with foreign honey, like most of the honey found in supermarkets, it can be harmful or even fatal to them—bees will ingest this foreign bacteria and bring it back to their hive—causing whole colonies to die. It’s important to rinse out honey jars well and dispose of them properly to prevent this.
Finally, we have to change our attitude toward bees, and don’t forget to look out for those little green bees. They are harmless unless threatened, and remember—they are keeping us alive.
There are many articles out there about the best ways to support bees. Here are the articles used as references for this blog post—check them out to learn more.