Published: Feb 23, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 20, 2013 07:09 PM
Every Tuesday night, I have a date with my 11-year-old daughter – and about 70 other people.
We’re attending Bee School, a 10-week course offered by the Orange County Beekeepers Association. The course is so popular that it’s now offered every year, and people still are turned away. What has surprised me though – in addition to attendees of all ages and a good number from Durham – is that many of my classmates are repeat Bee Schoolers.
“It’s a lot to absorb in 10 weeks,” notes Geneva Green, president of the association.
Those lessons in bee biology, pest management and more apparently start to really make sense when folks begin working with their own bees. Green, who grew up around bees thanks to a beekeeping grandfather and who has been a beekeeper herself for about 10 years, says she still learns more every year at Bee School.
“The amount to learn about honeybees is endless,” she says.
Indeed, my daughter and I have learned a lot – and I thought we already knew much from a seven-week course on pollinators and a good deal of reading on honeybees.
Among the many interesting facts we’ve learned is that honeybees breathe through their abdomen and partially through their thorax. All those years ago at the age of 8 when I was picking up bees by their wings from the bushes off my front porch, I actually was handling them the right way. Grasp a bee by its abdomen, and it may pass out.
There are about 20,000 species of bees in the world. Yet only honeybees – of which there are seven species – make enough honey for humans to harvest. Their importance as a pollinator is huge, accounting for the production of about $96 million in annual fruits and vegetables in North Carolina, according to the 2007 report “The Value of Honeybees as Pollinators in N.C.” Some crops that rely solely on pollination for the setting of fruit, like blueberries and apples, depend largely on honeybees.
But did you know the honeybees you see buzzing around your yard likely are from a beekeeper’s hives? Beekeepers and aspiring beekeepers already are ordering their packages of bees that will arrive in the spring and contribute to this year’s crops. That’s important because wild honeybee colonies have been decimated by varroa mites, which are thought to be a factor – along with pesticides and unpredictable weather — in colony collapse disorder, the sudden disappearance of worker bees from a hive.
For a lot of people, beekeeping is a way of helping the environment and the world, says Green, a landscaper and the owner of Geneva’s Gardens.
“They’re certainly increasing the number of pollinators in an area,” she says. “In years when we had high losses in honey bees, I’ve gone into gardens that I’ve always seen honeybees in and seen no honeybees until after the spring packages arrived.”
In our first session of Bee School, Todd Walker, past president of the beekeepers association, noted the importance of honeybees and their reliance on beekeepers and others for their survival.
“If we work together and help bees and promote beekeeping, this is what we can see in our farmers markets,” Walker said, projecting a photo of an abundance of fruits and vegetables at a market.
Then he displayed a photo of empty shelves.
“This is the alternative.”Catherine Wright lives in Hillsborough, homeschools her daughters and plans to add more plants that bees love to her garden, including leaving some dandelions, as her family learns more about beekeeping. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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