— Gary Cobus, Food Council Member
Recently, the Crow River Food Council had a presence at the Buffalo Community Health Fair. I was asked to help-out and be at the CRFC’s table during the Fair, representing the CRFC as a Beekeeper. I was very happy to do so and I had a great day!
I have been a Beekeeper since 2011 and I am constantly learning about honeybees. They are such interesting insects! I did not become a beekeeper with the sole purpose of getting honey. My main interest was to learn about bees and then to facilitate interest among friends, family, and acquaintances. Well that part of beekeeping has been a huge success for me. Wherever I go, when people find out that I am a beekeeper they have questions for me about bees.
What always amazes me and makes me happy is to know how concerned people are about honeybees. I kept busy for the entire four hours of the Health Fair talking to people about bees. Pretty much everyone knew the importance of bees as pollinators. If you are not aware of it, bees are responsible for pollination of our food; that equates to one out of every three bites of food that we eat. If not for pollinators we would be eating mostly grains and other wind pollinated plants. Our diet would be very dull and obviously less nutritious.
Many visitors asked about the biggest problems bees face and the best way they can help bees. Here are some answers:
- Just about every honeybee hive in America has a problem with a parasite known as the Varroa Destructor, a mite. There is extensive study being done about how to eradicate this parasite but right now the only thing that can be done by beekeepers is to monitor how heavily infested a hive may be and to try to minimize the number of Varroa through mostly chemical means. This is not great but right now it is the only way to control the number of Varroa mites in a hive. This parasite weakens bees and makes them more susceptible to diseases. Controlling these parasites is one reason why beekeepers are important. These days, wild beehives do not last more than a couple years before they succumb to Varroa mites.
- Loss of habitat is something that can be addressed by almost everyone. Individuals can help by planting pollinator friendly flowers and by planting a variety of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the season to provide food for the bees all Summer long and into Autumn.
- Use of pesticides: Pesticides are bad for pollinators, especially systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids. Neonics rid your flowers of bad insects but they hurt the good insects too. We should not buy plants treated with systemic pesticides. If possible, we should not use pesticides at all. Most times there are better or natural ways to remove or reduce pests, such as using insecticidal soap. If you must use pesticides make sure to follow label directions. Don’t spray on windy days. Spray in the early evening when the bees have already returned to their hive.
- Support legislation that helps pollinators. I am amazed at the towns that have anti-beekeeping ordinances. Bees are not a threat to us. They just want to gather nectar. I think people confuse bees with wasps and only remember those late summer/early autumn picnics in which our picnics are filled with wasps looking for carbohydrates and being nuisances in the process. Honeybees and other native pollinators don’t do this.
- Education of the public about bees is crucial. Do what you can to become more educated about bees yourself. Read books, newspaper articles, etc., about bees. Talk to beekeepers. Google Honeybees!
- Eat local honey and support your local beekeeper. If you do this you will be helping your local beekeeper to continue raising, monitoring, and helping to keep pollinators in your area and possibly in your own garden. If you buy honey at the store, make sure to read the label and make sure that what you are buying is actually ONLY honey and not blended with corn syrup.
- Go retro! Become a beekeeper! Of course, not everyone can do this but it is a fascinating hobby and there are clubs such as the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers and the Tri-County Beekeepers with hundreds of members willing to help you. A great class to take, even if you do not become a Beekeeper, is the “Beekeeping in Northern Climates” class that is offered by the University of Minnesota. The class is offered at least once a year in the early Spring.
Of course, I am willing to try to help you with your questions about bees. I am not the ultimate bee expert but I can find people to answer any bee question you have that I may not know.
Thanks for supporting Honeybees and our native pollinators!