Honeybees are a crucial link in agricultural production. To put it another way, about one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Yes, you can thank the small honeybee for one of every three bites of food you ingest. However, honeybees are in trouble.
The Center for Biological Diversity reports more than 40% of bee species are vulnerable to extinction and over 20% of U.S. native bees have declined. Habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease are among factors causing the decline. Should that decline continue, entire ecosystems will be affected and food supplies will be at risk.
That's the bad news. The good news is we can do something about it. There are two ways to contribute to the wellness of bees: Become a beekeeper and/or provide a pollinator friendly garden.
"It's almost better to provide the garden," states Central Oregon hobbyist beekeeper Muffy Roy. That's not to discourage anyone from keeping bees, but as Roy points out, beekeeping is not for everybody. "Hives are a huge commitment," Roy continues, "And keeping them is a wonderful, thought-provoking pursuit with challenges." If you're up for such a challenge and interested in having a hive for honey, there is local support to help.
A good place to start is the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association, whose mission is to promote successful beekeeping through education, collaboration, communication and research. It offers beginner beekeeping courses, among other things. Oregon State University also has an apiary at the Central Oregon Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Madras where workshops, field days, etc. take place.
Roy got into beekeeping after visiting a friend's beehive, becoming fascinated by the bees and respecting the fact that pollinators are responsible for our food supply. She remembers the first time she took honey from a comb out of her own hive. "It was like liquid gold, and the most special thing on the planet." She has some advice for other beekeeping wannabees. "It's important to have respect for the neighborhood. Your hive or hives must be kept healthy. If a hive becomes infected with the varroa mite for example, it can infect neighboring hives."
Mites and starvation are the main causes of death of local bees. An interesting item to note is honey bees are not native to Central Oregon, although they are now well established. Mason bees are native, and while they don't produce honey, they are still pollinators.
“Beekeeping is not for everybody. Hives are a huge commitment and keeping them is a wonderful, thought-provoking pursuit with challenges.” —Muffy Roytweet this
For those inclined to plant a garden to provide pollen for the pollinators, Roy recommends a booklet published by OSU that can help you with your "bee" garden, "Water-Wise Gardening in Central Oregon," by Amy Jo Detweiler. Bees are not the only pollinators that benefit from a pollinator-friendly garden; others include hummingbirds, butterflies, moths and bats.
Other great resources for creating a garden that will support your local honey bee (or Mason bee or butterfly) are available online at Deschutes Land Trust and the U.S. Forest Service. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think purple. Bees love purple plants such as lavender, borage, flax and Bluebeard, among others.
Plant in clumps, such as 4-foot by 4-foot squares. Why? Because bees only collect one type of pollen each flight out from the hive so a clump of the same plant will provide them plenty of pollen in a single visit.
Plant in succession so that something is blooming every month during the growing season, thus keeping the pollen supply steady.
Whether you're interested in becoming a backyard beekeeper or planting a garden that attracts bees, you may be concerned about getting stung by a bee. Bees are typically only aggressive if their home is threatened. That means you shouldn't stand in front of a hive or poke or jiggle a hive.
If you see a swarm of bees, don't be alarmed. A swarm happens when a hive is overcrowded. The hive will split and up to two-thirds of the bees in the hive will leave (in a swarm) to find a new home. The bees in a swarm are full of food and therefore quite docile. If you see a swarm, contact the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association for professional help.
Central Oregon Beekeeping Association