Friday, January 14, 2011

Help the Honeybees

Now that you know about honeybees, what can you do to help?

Everyone can help the honeybees.  Here are some ideas:
1.  Plant a "bee friendly garden"
Ask your parents about planting some wildflowers or native plants.  Honeybees visit flowers to get nectar and pollen, why not provide some of their favorites?
Here's a list of some plants that honeybees will visit in your backyard.  It's also very important that you not spray pesticides (especially insecticides- chemicals that kill insects) when the bees are around.

2.  Buy local honey
There are beekeepers in all 50 states that take care of honeybees; for some of them, keeping bees is their full-time job.  We depend on beekeepers, so buying honey directly from them helps keep honeybees in your area.  Honeylocator.com has a listing of honey sources by region, look at farmers' markets, or find a beekeeper through a state beekeeping association.  Try cooking with helpful and wholesome honey!
Save The Bear


3.  Learn more about honeybees- and tell your friends about them!
Honeybees are important to our lives, but many children (and adults) don't like them because they sting.  Wow people with your knowldege (start with Bee in the Know trivia)and tell people about how about 1/3 of our food supply depends on honeybees! 

If you have the beekeeping project in 4-H in your county, try making a poster or work with a beekeeper in your area.  Visit your county extension office to find out more.

Become a bee buddy!  This program, offered through the Kids and Bees program, provides you with a membership packet and birthday surprise.  Click here for more information.

Write about it!  You could win $250 in the 4-H Beekeeping Essay contest from the Foundation for the Preservation of Honeybees.  The topic for 2011 is
"U.S. Honey: A Taste for Every Preference"

Spring is Finally Here!


All winter long, you've been waiting to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, right? Well, guess what? The honeybees have been waiting for Spring, too! Honeybees need flowers for pollen and nectar. The forager bees leave the hive to collect the dusty pollen (made by flowers so that they can produce seeds).  This pollen has hooks and spikes that cause it to cling to the bee's hairy body so that it can be carried to another flower. 
After she finds a flower with tasty pollen, the foraging worker bee rolls it around and creates a ball of pollen on her back legs, called a "pollen basket".  With a heavy load of brightly colored pollen, she flies back the hive and passes it off to other worker bees inside the hive.  They store the delicious pollen in the honeycombs so brood (baby bees) and adult bees can eat it later!

"Bee in the Know":  During a trip out of the hive, a bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers.

Dance, Dance!

When you've found or done something great, what is the first thing you do when you get home? You tell your siblings, mom, or dad about it, right? Well, honeybees have a really interesting way to communicate!

To tell their sisters where a source of pollen (see below) or nectar is, honeybees dance! When one foraging honeybee finds a field full of blooming wildflowers, an apple orchard, or strawberry patch, she flies back to the hive, gives the other bees a taste of the nectar or pollen, and begins a "waggle dance". Scientists studied life inside the hive for a long time to discover the waggle dance, a series of circles and shakes to give her sisters directions to that pollen. In the picture, some preschool students are showing me their best bee dances!






"Bee in the Know": Honeybees dance to show other foragers where a source of pollen/nectar is in relation to the hive and the position of the sun.

Beekeepers Who are as Busy as Their Bees!


So, if bees are busy, beekeepers must be pretty busy too!  Some beekeepers only have a few hives, like me!  Others have thousands of beehives (in each beehive there might be about 60,000 honeybees!) and take care of them as their job.  So what does a beekeeper do?

Beekeepers might take their hives from one part of the country to another, and have beehives for pollinating crops. For all of the different plants that need honeybee pollination, the beekeepers don't live in the right areas-  so they move their beehives.  The load up hives on the back of a semi truck, cover them with a net, and drive across the country to flowers that are in bloom.  In February, beekeepers take over half of the hives in the United States to the almond crop in California. 

Some beekeepers are MIGRATORY beekeepers.  They may have more than one home and travel with their honeybees during different parts of the year.  Usually, these beekeepers take their beehives to the southern part of the United States during the winter.

Are you as busy as a beekeeper??
"Bee in the Know":  There are around 2.5 million honeybee hives in the USA

Honey- That's All It Is!

Honey.  Pure and Simple.
Honey doesn't have anything added to it.  Let's look at how honeybees make honey and how it gets to the bear-shaped bottle in your cabinets. 

Step 1: Foraging honeybees go to the flowers, where they suck nectar through their proboscis (straw-like tongue) into their honey stomach (we just have one stomach- honeybees have two).  The nectar is very watery.
Step 2:  In their honey stomach, special ingredients called enzymes are added.  This officially makes it into HONEY! 
Step 3:  When they bring it back to the hive, the worker bees put the honey into a hexagon cell made out of wax.
Step 4:  With their wings, the worker bees inside the hive fan the honey, removing most of the water so it turns out sticky and thick.
Step 5:  When the honey is ready, they cap it over with wax for storage until the winter. 

That's the end of the honeybees' job.  Beekeepers take extra honey that the bees don't need for the winter.  This process is called extracting.
Step 1: Beekeepers cut off the wax cappings.  These are saved for use in candles, chapstick, and crayons!
Step 2:  The frame of honey is then put into an extractor.  This basically looks like a large metal can with baskets hanging in it.
Step 3:  The honey spins to the outside of the extractor and drips to the bottom.  There is a honey gate at the bottom of the extractor that a beekeeper opens and the honey flows out.
Step 4:  The honey is filtered and bottled.


So there you have it!  Honey is straight from the honeybees to your shelf.
"Bee in the Know":  There are over 300 different varieties of honey in the United States (these come from the different flowers that the bees visit)

Historical Honeybees


I wanted to share some more history about honeybees.

Since the earliest days of civilization, honeybees have been an important part of history! 


The Egyptians kept honey bees 3-5,000 years ago in the Nile River Valley.  This very advanced civilization contributed several key ideas to modern beekeepers; they kept the honeybees in pots, used smoke to calm the bees,  and used rafts to move hives to different nectar flows (we use hives for bee homes and semi trucks instead of rafts, but these concepts are still used today!).  The bee was a symbol of royalty and kingship, and in tombs of high-ranking officials, the Egyptians often left honey and other food for the afterlife. 


In more recent times, Napoleon (a French leader in the late 1700's) used honeybees as one of the symbols of his empire.  He wasn't the first to use this idea, or the last.  Many people have admired the honeybee's work ethic ("busy as a bee")!  This had led to the honeybee's appearance on official state seals and the first money of the United States. 

Utah is the BEEHIVE STATE, and has a skep in the middle of their state seal and flag.  A skep was an early beehive, usually woven out of straw or waxed rope.  It was used until the mid-1800's.  Learn more about why Utah is the beehive state here

In the 1850's, beekeeping changed forever with some new inventions.  But that is a story for a different time!
"Bee in the Know":  The earliest record of humans collecting honey from wild colonies or "honey hunting" is from 7000 BC (or 9,000 years ago!)

A Swarm in June...


Many beekeepers have a saying:
"A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
a swarm in July isn't worth a fly!"

Both a load of hay and a silver spoon are pretty valuable, but what is a swarm?  A SWARM is when the honeybee hive gets too crowded- there are too many bees and not enough space!  So the queen leaves the hives with some of the worker bees to go look for a new home.

After eating up tons of honey in the hive so they have energy to fly away, they will quickly land in a tree, bush, or other somewhat sheltered location.  There have even been swarms land in the engines of airplanes!  While they're waiting, scout bees go out looking for a more permanent location.  Hollow trees and logs are perfect places for honeybee homes-- but those are hard to find! 

Many beekeepers will come collect swarms in their area, so if you see a swarm, you or your parents can call a beekeeper and see them put the honeybees into a warm, dry, beehive.  Some of the beekeeping organizations are listed here.

Maybe there will be more swarms this June!  I hear they're worth a silver spoon...

"Bee in the Know":  Honeybees are extremely gentle when they swarm because they have eaten so much honey!

Beeswax- It's the Bee's Business

When beekeepers extract honey, they also harvest the beeswax.  But where does this beeswax come from?  Beeswax is created in the worker bee's wax glands on the underside of her abdomen.  It comes out in tiny little chips that they mold together to make the hexagon honeycomb cells- they create their entire homes out of beeswax!  They also cap the honey over when it is ready.  These cappings are what the beekeeper keeps.

What can we use beeswax for?  Lots of things- here's a few: 

Candles: Beeswax candles are one of the biggest uses.  These special candles are used in homes and churches because they burn slower and brighter and don't drip.  Root Candles in Medina, Ohio is a company that uses beeswax, and sometimes it's a very long process to get from the beeswax to a candle used at your dinner table.  Here's a picture of candles being dipped. 

Cosmetics:  Beeswax is now used in many lotions and lip balms because it is a natural product that helps to seal in moisture.  Check your chapstick- maybe it contains beeswax!

Other Uses:  Your mom or dad might use beeswax to help dresser drawers slide better or even in their furniture polish.  We can use beeswax all around the house- some crayons even have the honeybee's hard work in them!

"Bee in the Know":  Many churches only use beeswax candles because they don't leave a smoky residue on the statues and windows.

Your Breakfast Without Bees

What did you have this morning for breakfast?  While you might have honey in your cereal, honeybees contribute a lot more to breakfast!  I bet you ate (or drank) something that needs honeybees for pollination!  Let's look at just a few important breakfast foods:
What did you have this morning for breakfast?  While you might have honey in your cereal, honeybees contribute a lot more to breakfast!  I bet you ate (or drank) something that needs honeybees for pollination!  Let's look at just a few important breakfast foods:

Fruit:
Apples
Oranges
Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, and other berries Watermelon/Cantaloupe
Peaches
Pears

Other Food:
Almonds for cereal
Blueberries in muffins
Jelly or Jam for your toast

Drinks:
Milk- honeybees pollinate alfalfa, which is feed for dairy cows
Apple Juice
Orange Juice
Coffee- honeybees increase coffee yields by about 30%. (we would have about 1/3 less without them)









A breakfast with honeybee pollination..........................and without.

Photo courtesy of: Scientific American

"Bee in the Know":  Some crops, like cucumbers for pickles are dependent on honeybees for pollination.  Other fruits, vegetables, and nuts are more abundant if the bees visit them; tomatoes are a good example of this.

The Story Behind the Smoke

The smoker is one of the most recognizable tools that a beekeeper uses- and also the one that causes the most questions!  Let's find out what a smoker does, and how it works!

Honeybees are very gentle, but sometimes can become nervous or aggressive when a beekeepers inspects the beehive- especially if the beekeeper accidently bumps the hive and the bees think they are in danger!   The earliest beekeepers realized that if they were going to get the honey, they would have to distract the honeybees.  So they invented the smoker.

What does a smoker look like and how is it used?  It has a can with a spout on the top.  Beekeepers build a fire inside the can using some kind of a fuel  (examples: burlap sack, wood chips like you would use for animal bedding, pine needles)  Using the bellows, we pump air through the can and out the spout.  Smoke comes out out! 

So how does a smoker work?  Well, when the honeybees smell something burning, they get busy eating honey for energy.  If the building you were in was on fire, you would run out as fast as you can.  Honeybees have to eat to have the energy needed to be able to fly.  The smoker distracts them; they are busy eating honey and not worried about the beekeepers.  The smoker also helps to cover up honeybee alarm pheromones.  Pheromones are a type of chemical signal or scent; the alarm pheromone is produced when something is intruding on the hive- kind of like saying "watch out, there's somebody here!".  When a beekeeper uses a smoker, it helps to cover up that scent!

Smokers do not hurt the bees in any way- it just helps to calm them down.  During this time, beekeepers can inspect the hive to make sure that the honeybees are healthy and making honey!

"Bee in the Know":  Beekeepers inspect their hives about every two weeks in the summertime.

Honey is Not Just for Cooking!

Although I certainly enjoy my peanut butter and honey sandwiches, honey is not just for cooking. Honey is antibacterial. Antibacterial means it will fight off and kill germs so it is like hand sanitizer. Because honey is antibacterial, you can put honey on a minor cut or scrape to help heal it quicker. You can also use it like a cough drop for two reasons: it will soothe your throat and help kill the bacteria causing you to feel sick.


Honey is also known as a humectant. This means it will hold in moisture. You may find honey in many different lotions which will keep your skin feeling soft and smooth. You can also find it in lip balm like in the Burt’s Bees lip balm I use made with beeswax and honey. Beeswax and honey can both keep your lips feeling soft and smooth.

Athletes, including Olympic athletes, enjoy using honey as an all natural quick source of energy. If you are feeling tired before playing sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball, or football, you can take some honey to give you an extra boost of energy.

Try using honey for something new today!
"Bee in the Know":  Scientists found out that honey works just as well as over-the-counter cough medicine to make your scratchy throat feel better.

The Queen's Business

When I visit schools, one of the first questions I'm always asked is "If the queen bee dies, what happens?".  So we are going to learn about the two things that happen if the queen bee gets sick or dies. 

1. WITHOUT ANY HELP FROM THE BEEKEEPER
If something happens to the queen bee, the worker bees know within hours that she is not there producing her special scent and laying eggs.  They get to work right away!  The worker bees will randomly select around 5 or 6 eggs from the past few days (if the queen lays around 1,500 eggs every day, they may have a few thousand to choose from) and start feeding them a special food.  This food, called Royal Jelly, is very high in protein and makes the queen bee start to develop.  Since the queen is longer, the cell she's growing in looks a little different- more like a peanut.  The queen bee that emerges first (out of the 5-6 queen bee "wannabees") has to kill the others!  She then goes to mate with drones and comes back to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life!
 
2. WITH SOME HELP FROM THE BEEKEEPER
Sometimes the beekeeper helps this process out to make it go a little faster.  Beekeepers can buy a queen from another beekeeper and put her in the hive where she'll start laying eggs very quickly.  Did you know there are beekeepers that raise queen bees?  Let's look at what they do! 

The beekeeper will remove or separate a queen bee from its beehive, so the bees think they don't have a queen (called queenless).  Then the beekeepers select very young larva- about 3 days old.  They put these larva into cups.  The bees then start feeding these larva the Royal Jelly to turn them into queen bees. Once they are ready to emerge, the beekeepers separate them (so they don't hurt each other) and put them into tiny beehives where they can mate with drones and start laying eggs!

"Bee in the Know":  The queen is the only bee in the hive that lays eggs (she'll lay about 1,500 each day)!  These eggs can turn into worker, drone, or a new queen bee.

No Pumpkin Pie?

In the fall, many of us eat some special types of food and particpate in fun fall activites!  But did you know, some of that food wouldn't happen without honeybees?  Honeybees (and other types of wild bees) pollinate pumpkins.  So without honeybees we would have a lot fewer pumpkins for jack o' lanterns or pumpkin pie!

Pollination review:Pollen is the male part of flower.
Honeybees in a pumpkin blossom (see the pollen?)
The female part of the flower is inside (we usually can't see it)
When honeybees take pollen from one flower to another, some of that pollen falls off, into the flower.
This makes a seed.
Fruits, vegetables, and nuts usually grow around the seed (like pumpkins!)

So, as you are carving your pumpkin, scooping out all the seeds, or roasting pumpkin seeds for a quick snack, or eating pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, think about the work of the honeybees!


"Bee in the Know":  Honeybees pollinate pumpkins and many other vine crops, including cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupes!

I'm Thankful For...


At Thanksgiving, many of us stop and think what we're thankful for- and there are so many things to consider.  But most people don't know that we should be thankful for HONEYBEES!

Why would you want to be grateful for honeybees?

1.  Tasty Thanksgiving Food
From the cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie, much of our food during thanksgiving and throughout the year needs honeybee pollination.  This means that maybe there wouldn't be as much to pass around the table without our friend the honeybee!

2.  Clothes
Honeybees even help to pollinate cotton for the clothes that we wear! 

3.  Honey
I love honey on my rolls during dinner.  Ask if you can get some honey for your honey-glazed turkey or ham, honey whipped cream to top off your pumpkin pie, and many other tasty foods during this holiday season.

4.  Beeswax Candles
A lot of people put special candles in the center of their tables for Thanksgiving.  Light up the room (and the holiday atmosphere) with beeswax candles from a local beekeeper!

So many reasons to thank the honeybee!

"Bee in the Know":  The pilgrims sweetened all of their dishes with either honey or maple syrup for the first Thanksgiving dinner!

Oh, Honey! What a Difference!


 

Lighter honey usually has a milder flavor (not quite as strong).
The darker honey will typically have a more intense flavor- and
it all depends on what the bees visit!
Did you know there are different types of honey? Different types of honey come from different flowers- because the nectar that the honeybees collect varies from one plant to another.  In fact, there are 300 varieties of honey in the United States- about 3,000 worldwide!!! 

3,000 different types worldwide?  That means that you could try a new variety of honey every day for over eight years!

Some common and popular types of honey: 
Clover- one of the most readily available sources of honey in the United States.  Most clover honey comes from the Midwest (especially North and South Dakota, and Minnesota).
Buckwheat- a very dark honey that has a rich, robust flavor.  Many people use the darkest varieties of honey for baking.  Check out some honey recipes at the "Cooking with Honey" tab or on honey.com.
Fireweed- Fireweed honey from Alaska could possibly be mistaken for water!  It's a much lighter color and has a very light taste, too.

See if your state has a unique type of honey!  Look on honeylocator.com , ask a local beekeeper at a farmer's market or fair, or see your state's beekeeping fact!

"Bee in the Know":  Honey draws in moisture from the air, so you can use it to keep muffins and bread fresh!

Bee a Beekeeper!

Did you know that you can be a beekeeper?  People keep bees either for fun or as a full-time job.  Let's look at beekeepers and other careers that are related to beekeeping.

Beekeepers
People who "keep" honeybees take care of bees and make sure that everything is going right inside of the hive.  When a beekeeper looks inside of a beehive, they look to make sure that the honeybees are healthy, the queen is laying eggs, and that the honeybees are making honey.  There are beekeepers with just a few beehives in their backyard; others are commercial beekeepers- they might have hundreds or thousands of beehives.  These individuals may take their hives around the United States to pollinate different crops like Almonds, Blueberries, and Cucumbers.  Some of them specialize in selling honey to people like you and me!

If you are interested in starting beekeeping, you don't have to wait till you're an adult!  Teresa and Allison both started when they were teenagers.  Read some books and get involved with your local or state beekeeping group.  They'll probably have beekeepers that will help you get started.

Entomologist/Bee Research Scientist
Entomologists study insects.  There are entomologists that study honeybees; they might look at honeybee bodies, investigate honeybee diseases, and teach the beekeepers new things.  Entomologists go to college- they probably spent more than four years studying insects.  Sometimes they spend time in a laboratory; at others, they might be working with beehives.

Meet Dr. Marla Spivak, a Bee Research Scientist in Minnesota.  She won a prize about her bee research this year!



At Pennsylvania State University, scientists are trying to figure out the causes of "Colony Collapse Disorder".  They even created a Center for Pollinator Research.  Here's what they have to say!

Bee Removal Expert
Uh-oh!  While it is interesting to see how the honeybees build
their homes, you would NOT want bees here!
Sometimes, honeybees get in place they aren't supposed to be- like the inside of houses, barns, or in a tree in your backyard.  There are special beekeekepers that will take the honeybees out and take them back to their houses and put them in beehives.  Remember, you don't have to be scared of honeybees; they can only sting one time and then they die.  The best thing to do if you see honeybees is just to leave them alone.  Then call one of these special beekepers.

There are many other jobs related to beekeeping!  Start learning more today by getting involved with a 4-H program, reading great beekeeping books, or searching the Web.  Find out more about things you can do now at the Help the Bees page. 


"Bee in the Know":  There are about 200,000 beekeepers in the United States!

It's So Creamy!


We all love honey for the sticky, drippy sweetness. But did you know there's a way to eat honey with less mess? It's still pure honey, but it's in a spreadable consistency that won't dribble off of your biscuits.

This is called creamed, whipped, or spun honey (all the same thing). Creamed honey is thick and spreadble.

How do we make creamed honey? It's not hard. First, we begin with a starter (creamed honey from another batch). Beekeepers then mix it with liquid (regular) honey for a certain period of time. After that it's refrigerated at 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Once finished, the creamed honey will stay nice and thick in your pantry.

Try some creamed honey with peanut butter on toast for a fantastic "PB&H"

"Bee in the Know":  Honey will last forever if properly stored.  If you have liquid honey that has crystallized, simply soak the jar in some hot (but not boiling) water and it will reliquify.

Buzzin' in a Winter Wonderland!


What happens to the honeybees in the winter?  This is a common question when we talk to groups of all ages.  Let's look at what happens to the honeybees in the winter months. 

First of all, what the bees do depends on where you live.  It's easier for the bees to overwinter in Florida where flowers bloom all year long than in Minnesota where it snows from November through March.

Clustering around the queen
When there are no flowers blooming, the honeybees eat the honey that they've stored up all summer long.  The worker bees form a cluster (a ball of bees) around the queen bee to keep her warm.  In fact, even if it's freezing outside, the honeybees will keep their cluster at 57 degrees Fahrenheit.  The bees move as a cluster eating honey.


The drone bees being kicked out of the hive in the fall!

I said the worker bees surround the queen.  So, what happened to the drones?  Because the drones don't help in the hive and eat more food, the drones are actually kicked out of the hive in the fall.  In the winter, it's just the girls!



The queen bee may stop layings eggs for part or all of the winter.  As it starts to get warmer, she'll begin to lay eggs.  This is so new workers bees are ready to collect nectar and pollen at the beginning of spring!
"Bee in the Know":  Some beekeepers move their beehives to southern states during the winter. 

Beeswax Art?


Yes, you can even use beeswax for art!  This is called encaustic art.  Artists layer colored beeswax on a canvas to create a 3-D look.  Kids can try this at home, too.  Here's some ideas.

 Make sure that you have a parent help you as the wax will be hot!!

Put beeswax and colored crayons (broken into small pieces and unwrapped) in a muffin tin.   Melt at 200 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven.  After having a parent remove the tray from the oven, use a butter knife to carefully layer color on a piece of cardboard.  Try making a sunrise/sunset or other scene!  The beeswax will harden very quickly, so just add another layer if you make a mistake. 

This is a fun project to do during Christmas vacation with your family.  What a great new way to use beeswax!

"Bee in the Know":  One of the first groups to keep bees, the Egyptians (along with the Greeks and Romans) also made artwork using beeswax.  It was even used to decorate coffins for mummies!