It’s time to get out in those gardens – and what better way to get your plants growing than bees. Whether you want to pollinate your fruits and vegetables, dabble in beekeeping or join the ranks of professional beekeeping, this will assist you along the way. So get out there – and get your buzzz on.
Most people tend to group all bees into the same category – those that produce honey and sting. Truth is, there are more than 30,000 species of bees and the majority of bees do not sting.
Missouri alone is home to more than 400 species of the 4,000 different types that live in North America.
Bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators of flowering plants that provide food, fiber, spices, medicines and animal forage. Three-quarters of all flowering plants rely on pollinators such as bees to reproduce. In Missouri, that means our cucumbers, pumpkins, fruit trees, berries, tomatoes, soybeans and corn rely on bees to keep them growing strong.
Many of the state’s agricultural crops would not exist without the bee. It is estimated that bees contribute more than $14 billion to the value of U.S. crop production. That’s a lot of food!
With hundreds of bee species buzzing about Missouri, it is sometimes hard to distinguish the type. Below are some things to help you identify that bee flying about:
The first evidence of beekeeping appears to have been on the wall paintings in ancient Egypt. Today, USDA estimates that there are more than 200,000 beekeepers across the U.S. – most of which are classified as hobby beekeepers with less than 25 hives.
Many beekeepers have bee hives in their own backyards and some are kept on city roof tops. Bees can travel for miles to collect nectar and pollen but most areas in Missouri, both rural and urban, have plenty of flowers and crops nearby to keep bees making a good crop of local honey.
What do bees do for crops?
According to the American Beekeeping Federation, as the honey bee gathers pollen and nectar for their own survival, the bee also pollinates crops such as apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli. Some crops including blueberries and cherries are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination. Missouri crops, including soybeans, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other great things growing in our gardens, rely on bees to keep them growing strong. Most fruit trees, like peach and apple trees, rely on their buzzing friends to provide for the tasty snack that many Missourians love.
What a better addition to your garden than a bee colony!
A Few Simple Steps to Get Started
- Get Involved – Join a local beekeeping association for tips and additional resources. MoStateBeekeepers.org is a great place to start.
- It’s Bee Time - Beekeeping is a seasonal hobby, and therefore, the time varies with seasons. The busiest time of the year is the warm days of early summer. Hives should be checked weekly to prevent swarming. In the winter months, very little needs to be done except to check for physical damage or snow blocking the bee’s entrances.
- Start right – Build at least one of your new bee hives from scratch. If you are handy with wood, building hive boxes and supers (compartments that support the honeycomb) is easy. Or you can order the hives put together already.
- Placement is everything – Be sure to put the apiary near a great source of nectar and pollen. Our first pick is near your garden. Ornamental trees and plants also provide for a great location. If you are in the city, ornamental plants can provide for an extended honey flow. Bees need water so be sure to have a water source. A shallow pan filled with water and rocks to rest on is an excellent addition to your apiary. This will keep the bees in your yard and now your neighbor’s.
- Purchased Equipment – Buying new equipment is best, but if you do purchase used, be sure to contact us for an inspection. (It is required by law.) Check out the equipment essential at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g7600.
Honey is honey – and the perfect sweetener. A bottle of pure honey contains the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants. When scientists begin to look for all of the elements found in this wonderful product of nature, they find a complex of naturally flavored sugars as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
Honey is made by bees in one of the world’s most efficient facilities, the beehive. The 60,000 or so bees in a beehive may collectively travel as much as 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just a pound of honey.
The color and flavor of honey differ depending on the bees’ nectar source (the blossoms). There are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the U.S., originating from such diverse floral sources as Clover, Eucalyptus and Orange Blossoms. Lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are usually more robust in flavor.
Forms of Honey
Most of us know honey as a sweet, golden liquid. However, honey can be found in a variety of forms.
- Comb Honey – Comb honey is honey in its original form - that is, the honey inside of the honeycomb. The beeswax comb is even edible!
- Cut Comb – Cut comb honey is liquid honey that has added chunks of the honey comb in the jar. This is also known as a liquid-cut comb combination.
- Liquid Honey – Free of visible crystals, liquid honey is extracted from the honey comb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining. Because liquid honey mixes easily into a variety of foods, it’s especially convenient for cooking and baking. Most of the honey produced in the United States is sold in the liquid form.
- Naturally Crystallized Honey – Naturally crystallized honey is honey in which part of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallized. It is safe to eat.
- Whipped (or Cremed) Honey – While all honey will crystallize in time, whipped honey (also known as cremed honey) is brought to market in a crystallized state. The crystallization is controlled so that, at room temperature, the honey can be spread like butter or jelly. In many countries around the world, whipped honey is preferred to the liquid form especially at breakfast time.
Honey’s Nutritional Profile
Honey is composed primarily of carbohydrates (natural sugars) and water, as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Providing 17 grams of carbohydrates and 64 calories per tablespoon, honey is an all-natural sweetener without any added ingredients.
Darker honeys have higher antioxidant content than lighter honeys.
For a complete nutrient listing, please visit USDA’s National Nutrient Database, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/.
Helpful Bee Resources
- Beeologics – Monsanto’s international effort to restore bee health and protect the future of insect pollination.
- Bayer Bee Care Centers – a hub to promote Bayer’s worldwide bee health initiatives.
- Honey Bee Health Report – Report on 2012’s National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health by the USDA.
- Missouri State Beekeepers Association - Learn what some of Missouri’s professional and hobby beekeepers are doing.
- Missouri Botanical Gardens - Nowhere better to host bees than a garden.
- St. Louis Zoo - Check out with the St. Louis Zoo is doing to promote bees.
- The Xerces Society - Here you will discover information about bees on farms, on the roadside, in gardens and parks, and how others are working to keep bees pollinating