Bees and why organic farming is important

Updated: Sep 27


Living almost naturally- honey bee visiting a blossom
Honey bee visiting a blossom - image from Christy Strever

"The Kalahari Desert's San people tell of a bee that carried a mantis across a river. The exhausted bee left the mantis on a floating flower but planted a seed in the mantis's body before it died. The seed grew to become the first human"

Ben's bees


Hopefully, by now we all know that we are in big trouble without bees. Like so much wildlife under humankind’s curatorship, bees are under pressure. It is in our own interests to ensure the health of honeybees because they are critical pollinators, pollinating 70% of the 100 crops that feed 90% of the world.


In South Africa, there are two honeybee species and more than 1,000 solitary bee species. Here on the farm, our honeybee is the Cape Bee (Apis mellifera capensis).


Why are bees in trouble?


Loss of habitat biodiversity and bee malnutrition


Nature loves diversity!


Much of the earth’s grasslands have been lost to agriculture, and bees are suffering from habitat loss and food shortages due to monoculture farming.


Especially devastating for bees is the loss of flower meadows. In the UK 70% of grasslands have been lost, and here in South Africa at least 90% of the native grasslands have gone.


“Weeds” are more often than not bee food, and are good for the soil (horses love them too - especially dandelions). Let’s leave them weeds alone!


Use of chemicals - Insecticides and pesticides


Not everyone chooses to go completely organic. If you do occasionally need to use chemicals, there are a few things you can do to ensure bees’ safety.

  1. READ the label! Is it bee friendly?

  2. If you must treat a plant with pesticide, make sure it hasn’t bloomed yet.

  3. Spray early in the morning or at night, when bees are at home in their hives and not out and about yet.

  4. Be careful when disposing of chemicals. Don’t let it puddle on the ground, or put it in or near a water source the bees use.

Do your bit to help honey bees

  1. Avoid using pesticides.

  2. Plant bee-friendly plants to provide good sources of nectar and pollen. Go mad with different colours of flowers. Bees are especially attracted to blue, violet, white and yellow.

  3. Create a water source. Honey bees need water to cool their hive and to dilute honey for feeding young bees.

Here are three practical ways you can help:


Garden with bees in mind


Although I try a bit of everything in the garden, it's terribly hot and dry where we live, so I have started growing plants that thrive in our conditions - and attract bees.


My favourite plants for bees:

Borage

Calendula

Catnip (if it can survive the cats)

Lavender

Marigold

Nasturtium

Rosemary

Sunflower

Living almost naturallly - basil in bloom
Bees love basil in bloom

Create a water source


Bees need shallow sources of water, such as a puddle on grass, preferably sucking it up through vegetation. It makes sense when you think about it - they aren’t exactly known to be good swimmers. They fan their hive to keep it both cool and warm which is rather thirsty making for them.


My birdbath and the water I leave for tortoises have been commandeered by bees.



Provide accommodation


Although bees are perfectly capable of finding their own accommodation, people can help a bit too.


We live in a fruit-growing area, and bees are critical to the success of crops. Beekeepers take hives to the orchards so that their bees have access to food, and in return the bees pollinate the trees. The dear hardworking bees also produce honey and beeswax, which we will talk about in the next post.


Meyer, who lives on the farm with us, makes fireproof hives. I have noticed more bees in my garden since his hives have been here, which may because of the hives or because of the all the new orchards on neighboring farms.


Fireproof hives, which are made from concrete, sand and perlite, are essential for our farm for two reasons:

  • We live in the mountains and experienced a wildfire only four years ago. As fire simply passes over these hives, the bees huddle in the middle, cooling the air around them with their wings; and

Baboons can’t destroy the hives as they do the traditional wooden ones.


Living almost naturally and concrete hive
Meyer with a new concrete hive

Watch this space for future posts about the concrete hives and beekeeping.


Bee stories


A friend and I were having a wonderful hike one day until we foolishly passed too close to a cave filled with wild bees. The sound of angry bees and being dive-bombed is quite frightening, and we fled. Funny in hindsight, but at the time it certainly wasn’t.


We scrambled and slid down a very steep slope to get away from them and headed for the river. Not that we would have got into that freezing water, which wouldn’t have covered us anyway. I have read that bees are likely to wait for you above the water so that wasn’t a good plan in the first place! Fortunately, they didn’t join us on the mad escape down the mountain slope.


We were stung a few times, and luckily neither of us had an allergic reaction. Which is a good thing because it is a half-hour hike up a steep rocky road to get home.


Chocolate dachshund Riley is allergic to bee stings. Anti-histamines are a vital item in our first aid kits, and just one tablet sorted him out.


To remove a stinger once you have been stung, swipe it to the side with a fingernail or something straight-ish to make sure the venom sac doesn’t stay in your skin. Bees don’t want to sting us because once they have punctured our skin, they can’t get the stinger out again and the entire abdomen is ripped out and stays on the sting.


Recommended watching:


The Trader is about an old lady in a deserted Georgian village who earns a living from collecting wild honey and selling it at the market. A Turk comes to the area with his family and ruins everything for the people and the bees.


If you can find this movie, it's well worth check out the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOauOJg-fCQ


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