Bees sustain our lives – be bee wise
Without the incredible honey bee, two-thirds of the food we take for granted would almost vanish, making life as we know it impossible.
‘‘The reality is that no bees mean no food and no people. That’s no joke because bees make civilisation possible,’’ said John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees chairman.
‘‘If we don’t look after all natural pollinators and the honey bee especially, we could see economic and social collapse. We are truly tiptoeing around the edge of a global chasm.
‘‘One-third of the food all humans eat is directly pollinated by honey bees. Nothing comes close to matching nature’s super pollinator. It is why the honey bee is [the] most indispensable animal to modern society.
‘‘When you eat your main meal tonight, just examine what’s on your plate. Anything of colour, from avocados to zucchinis, is only there because of honeybee pollination.
‘‘What’s more, another third of the food we eat from agriculture is indirectly supported by honey bees pollinating pasture and crops.
‘‘While too much nitrogen can be a bad thing, too little, we forget, makes life impossible. Without bees no one would be rolling in clover. It is that simple and that stark.
‘‘Then of course there is fruit; our sixth largest export worth more than $1.6 billion each year. Whether it is kiwifruit, apple, blueberry, cherry or pear, all are directly pollinated by the honey bee.
“Without the honey bee, we’d be pretty much dependent on an austere diet of fish, starch, grains and seaweed.
‘‘In China, much of its pear industry relies on pollination by human hand because the overuse of agricultural chemicals has made the land hostile to the honey bee.
‘‘That is why bees are an industry group within Federated Farmers and share policy resources with our arable sector. This recognises just how vital bees are to farming and farmers know that.
There are some very simple rules when we look at agricultural sprays and irrigation:
If the crop is flowering and bees are flying and working the crop, leave spraying until dusk and before dawn. This is generally better than the day itself, with less wind and less spray drift.
While a chemical may be said to be bee friendly, do not take the risk. Often, the sticking agent mixed with the chemical can be more dangerous to bees than the active product itself
Ensure any spraying contractor is fully briefed on your requirements. Deliberately flouting these guidelines is a prosecutable offence and the prospects of a beekeeper accepting a contract to pollinate your crops in the future will be greatly diminished.
Water via irrigation is a major threat to bee life. The bee cannot live in a cold, wet environment and it will rapidly chill and die before returning to the hive:
Use common sense and irrigate in the evening and not during the day when bees are flying. This has the advantage of greater water retention for pasture and crops
If you want hives in a crop, then ensure an irrigator cannot drift across and literally take out the hives.
Placing hives for good pollination is like selling a house; it is location, location, location:
Ensure hives are out of the travel path of any irrigator
Different crops have different requirements. For those crops the bees want to work, like white clover, they will fly some distance to seek pollen and nectar. Locating them over the fence in a sheltered warm north-facing site will do the job
Some crops, such as kiwifruit, carrots and onions, are a little less palatable for the honey bee. In this instance, placing the hives in the paddock or the orchard directly with the crop can enhance the pollination strike rate. Again common sense will prevail, the honey bee is a master pollen and nectar gatherer; show them the opportunity and they will get on with the job, weather permitting.
Much of the advice above applies equally at home in the suburbs with gardeners. Making home gardens an inviting place for a bee to visit increases pollination success:
Use a mixture of bee-friendly plants placed in your garden, which encourage bees to fly in and do their job of pollination
Lavender in the vegetable plot or orchard is a great start.
For bee friendly planting ideas search “trees for bees” in Google.