By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Why is it that you don’t understand the full wonder of something until you tangibly experience it yourself?
We all did the bee project in school, didn’t we? We made the diagrams, identified the different kinds of bees and listed some cool facts:
• Honey bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey.
• The average bee will make only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
• A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
• A honey bee can fly for up to 10 kilometres, and as fast as 24 kilometres per hour.
• The bee’s brain is oval in shape and about the size of a sesame seed, yet it has a remarkable capacity to learn and remember things. For example, it is able to make complex calculations on distance travelled and foraging efficiency.
It was all very cool but quickly forgotten in a lifetime largely ignoring insects including bees, yet routinely slathering honey on our morning toast.
Then you make a bucket list. And write down that you want to raise backyard bees to complete the cycle of the horses a manure a garden a flowers and vegetables a pollinators a healthy eating a composting a back to soil cycle on your farm.
The bees are installed and you find yourself going out every morning to see what plant, tree, or shrub they are pollinating. You end up lying in a patch of bird’s foot trefoil on your lawn that you left unmowed just for them. An hour goes by as you watch the girls buzz around with their heavy loads of pollen. You don’t get stung. In fact, the bees are so intent on their work they hardly seem to notice your presence.
You look around at the rest of your lawn. It’s brown and dead partly from drought and partly because mowing has cut away diversity and life from this expanse of grass that looks real pretty but has become a big chore.
Something clicks. Something transformative. You start thinking that if part of this lawn was allowed to grow or be transformed into a prairie meadow, there would be many MORE flowers for the bees.
Suddenly, you are drawing up plans and researching native plants of Ontario. You are joining bee clubs, following bee pages on instagram and visiting beekeepers to ask questions and learn, learn, learn.
You get to open the hive for an inspection and you notice tiny eggs in the comb cells. The hive is growing! There is honey – actual honey – piling up on the frames. You don’t see the queen and truth is, you’re a little sweaty and nervous because your smoker went out (lack of experience) and you notice all these bees staring at you from between the frames. You decide to replace the frame but it’s sticky and you accidentally jerk the hive. A collective, angry, buzz swells from the depths of the hive. But you don’t get stung and you know it’s your fault. You deserve the reprimand. Next time, though, you will practice with the smoker to make sure you have backup protection.
Suddenly, what you’ve been reading in Bees for Dummies makes sense. You want to champion these bees! You want to check on them, grow plants for them and find the ideal location for them to thrive.
You have a lot to learn. This is more than a school project. This is real life, supports farming and is really important. You are hashtagging and literally living all the buzz words: #savethebees #PollinatorProtector and #grownativeplants.
You are going to be busy but it’s a process. The bees know what they are doing. It’s just you who doesn’t. So you watch, learn, read and connect with experts as you try to help the world, one plant and pollinator at a time. ◊