As the summer is approaching an imminent end at Harris Seeds, it is time to reflect on the trials conducted on our grounds as well as all the travel spent around the country to view collaborative trials with universities and professional growers. Despite our outdoor trials slowing down, the midnight oil has begun to burn as we spend the beginning of fall inside writing our catalogs for next year. In honor of our successful trials this year, it is important to recognize some of our hardest, most exceptional workers, the honey bees.
It is said that the honey bee is responsible for every one in three bites of food. They not only pollinate plant flowers, creating higher yields of fruits and vegetables, they also create a forever food, honey, from the nectar they harvest. Honey is considered a forever food because it is a hypertonic solution, which means it’s almost all sugar and lacks water. This doesn’t allow microorganisms to live in honey and contaminate it. Honey bees evolved from a species that originated in Asia. There are about 7 to 11 commonly known honey bees, but there are 20,000 different types of bees worldwide. Humans have been domesticating bees for around 4,500 years, which is known based on Egyptian art depicting bee keeping.
At Harris Seeds, we instituted bee keeping practices last year. We have a team of volunteers, including myself, who work with the hives to ensure their future. Our first year was a tough learning year. With a history of previously harsh winters, many local bee keepers struggled as well. Nearly 44% of hives were lost in 2015-2016 and 33% were lost in the 2016-2017 season. The decline in populations could be due to numerous factors such as fluctuating temperatures and the long cold snaps that took place. Unfortunately, we lost both of our hives the first year. However, we did not let that stop us from trying again! With help from our partners at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, we acquired new queens and colonies.
This year we focused on making sure the honey bees were able to thrive. We relocated our hives to a new spot closer to our trial grounds and near a wind block. Close by is our compost pile, where numerous volunteer plants sprouted, and we deliberately planted the Wildflower Eastern Pollinator Mix next to the hives. Along with our trial gardens of flowers and vegetables, the bees had a bountiful buffet to feast on.
We made sure to check for pests diligently as well. Hive beetles and Varroa mites are two common problems for apiarists. We are currently practicing chemical free treatments to combat these problems. Installing vegetable oil traps for the hive beetles helps the bees push them up and into the trap, which drowns the nuisances. Tapping powdered sugar over the hives and onto the bees is like making it rain candy. Not only do they love the taste, but it makes the bees clean themselves. We are then able to catch the mites on a mite board and perform a 24 hour check to evaluate the severity of the infestation. Luckily, we have had minimal pest issues and have stayed well ahead of the problems to remain chemical free!
The populations of the bees have been in decline since middle of the 20th century with many possible contributing factors, including: the presence of Varroa mites, the diseases spread by Varroa mites, forage and habitat degradation, and pesticide exposure. We all need to “bee” conscious when it comes to sustaining honey bee populations. Everyone can do their part, whether purchasing from local farms who implement sustainable practices, purchasing organic produce, or perhaps becoming an amateur beekeeper yourself. As a consumer, you have the purchasing power to promote and grow bee-safe practices. The more efforts made toward supporting sustainable growers and practices, the more we will be able to help ensure the survival of our most valued, natural worker. The work of the honey bee is never finished and neither should our commitment to ensuring their future existence.
Daniel Eggert is the Organic Brand Manager at Harris Seeds. He oversees the organic division which includes expanding the product line, contacting growers to ensure their success, helping with trial varieties, and expanding the brand presence within the organic community. Daniel is passionate about sustainability, becoming self-sufficient, and studying permaculture/biodynamic practices. He loves working at Harris Seeds and helping growers achieve success.