Time to get bee-witched by bees!
Today is the World Bee Day and since this initiative was originally proposed by Slovenia, I thought we should talk about bees, because they deserve all the buzz! Now, full transparency: I’m not a huge fan of flying insects and I hate wasps with a burning passion, because they like to attack me. I used to put bees in the same basket as well, although bees are usually more peaceful and tend to stick to their own homes, so I haven’t had that many interactions with them. However, in the recent years my opinion about bees has shifted a lot, mainly due to all the bee awareness projects out there, and I feel that’s true for a lot of other people too. See, spreading awareness and informing people works!
The importance of bees
The world as we know it literally depends on bees and other pollinators like butterflies. Pollination is the act of transferring pollen from male to female plant parts, so it’s essentially plant sex. However, plants being what they are, they need a little help to get it on and 90% of wild flowering plants and 75% of food crops depend on animal pollination. Although we have ways to artificially pollinate plants, the natural way of spreading pollen around is still the most effective and keeps the ecosystems in balance. More information on why bees matter here.
Unfortunately, pollinator species and bees in particular are in decline. Their extinction rates are super fast due to intensive farming, land use changes, harmful pesticide use, mono crop agriculture and climate change (higher temperatures, extreme weather events like floods and droughts, changes in flowering time). So, even if you don’t care about sustainability, biodiversity and environmental issues, you probably care about your food. If we don’t stop using harmful pesticides and start planting more diverse crops, things like fruit, nuts and certain vegetables may soon become a thing of the past. I for one like a choice in my menu, so it’s high time to implement bee protective measurements and take them seriously. Also, bees are actually pretty cute and fluffy up close if you need the extra incentive – bee glam shots here.
Beekeeping or apiculture is a longstanding tradition in Slovenia and 20th of May was actually chosen as World Bee Day because it’s the birthdate of Anton Janša, an 18th century Slovenian beekeeper who was one of the greatest authorities on beekeeping in the Austro-hungarian empire and the pioneer of modern beekeeping. According to today’s statistics, one in 200 people in Slovenia are somehow involved in beekeeping, either professionally or as a hobby. It is therefore not surprising that my country is the one behind World Bee Day and that api-tourism is a thing here. Also, painted wooden beehive panels are a part of our tradition and folklore and it’s not unusual to find entire stories told on beehive panels if you follow an api route.
So what can you get from a beehive? Although honey is the most well known product, there are also other bee products we use everyday. Beeswax is used in skincare, carpentry and to make candles, bee venom is used to make certain vaccines and has antiarthritic and antihistaminic properties, propolis is used for sore throats, to seal plant cuts and as a mouthwash, while royal jelly and pollen can be used to support our health and immune system. Crazy what bees can produce out of some flower nectar, right?
While I’m at it, vegans often like to say that bee products aren’t ethical, because we’re stealing honey from the bees, but that’s blatant bullsh*t. Good beekeepers respect their hives and leave enough honey and other stuff to keep the hive healthy and thriving and they help stabilise the bee population. If done right, beekeeping is a sustainable activity that promotes biodiversity and ensures the survival of different bee species and other species that depend on them.
What can you do to help the bees?
Obviously the first step is to know where you’re buying your honey and other bee products from. As always it’s best to find a local beekeeper that does the job right, so ask around and you’re sure to find one that sells raw honey. Since bees are so sensitive to the environmental changes and connected to nature, most good beekeepers use sustainable practices and in Slovenia there are some who even do refills and container returns. There are so many different types of honey depending on what the bees feed on, that it’s a shame to only buy the generic processed one in the supermarket. Personally I used to dislike honey as a child, but have since learned to appreciate certain types of it precisely because of the wide range of flavours.
You can also plant bee-friendly flowers and plants like lilies, primrose, hazel, yarrow, phlox, sage, sunflowers, clovers, linden and fruit trees etc., just check if they are native to your area. You can leave a small water bowl outside for tired bees, although I’ve also recently seen people offer sugared water or honey. According to the beekeepers, that’s not a good solution, because bees can get used to an easy, free food source and can become dependent on random sugared water pit stops, which will mess up their life. Unlike nectar, sugar also doesn’t contain all the necessary nutrients the bees need to survive and you shouldn’t use honey at all because it can transmit infections.
Otherwise individual action is the same as always: spread awareness, buy local and sustainable, reduce your waste and pollution, don’t use pesticides in your garden etc. Oh and don’t kill the bees if they wander into your home or start a colony. There are ways to safely get them removed by beekeepers and you can check out this crazy bee whispering lady who removes bees with her bare hands without protective gear here.