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For the love of bees.

Bees are freaking cool, and they do so much more for us than we give them credit for.

Nov 14, 2019


Words: Asheda Weekes

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Bees have been creating some serious buzz on my social media feeds. I’ve actually been wondering if the online search algorithm (which can be based on the pattern bees use to forage for pollen) somehow understood my original pitch for this issue and flew with it. I’m not complaining. Bees are freaking cool, and they do so much more for us than we give them credit for.

Bees are some complex creatures. Let’s dive in and check out some reasons why we should love our bees, and understand why we really need them in our lives. We’d better start with pollination. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther (male part of a flower) to the stigma (receptive female part). Pollen can be blown in the wind, but many fruit trees and crops need insects to carry it from flower to flower. Without this process, we’d go hungry.

They’re pollinators. Not just honey-makers. Bees are the most efficient way to pollinate. In Gippsland, 40% of our crops rely on honey bees for fertilisation. Their mutualistic relationship (bees get food for their colony and flowers can pollinate) with flowers is an important process for sustaining healthy ecosystems and local agriculture.

Millions of beehives are contracted out commercially to help with the pollination process. There are different techniques to manage pollination versus bees producing honey. Their hives can be moved to different sites based on crop seasonality.

Bee language is based on referential communication and their ‘dance’ is one of the most lauded forms of animal signalling. Referential communication means that a speaker clearly describes entities (things and people), and their location or movement, so that a listener can identify them (which one?), their locations (where?) and movements (what did they do?). Bees dance to tell one another the location of food in relation to their colony.

Speaking of bee’s colonies, their dynamic’s a WHOLE story in itself, so we encourage you to read up about it further (we’ve got some links below). Let’s just say it’s a complex tale that includes powerful queens, diligent workers and drones with shifting power dynamics, making it more exciting than a Game Of Thrones episode.

Bees have a stomach and a brain. They need proper nutrition just like us. Pollen gives them fat and protein, and the nectar is like their carbs. If they’re not receiving nutritional meals or a balanced diet, they underperform, which impacts the pollination process.

Bees are dying from poor health and diet, mainly due to pesticides, habitat loss and disease. This is a worldwide phenomenon and the yearly die-off rate for bees is now 40%, as opposed to the norm of 10–15%. Colony Collapse Disorder started to appear in the early 2000s, mainly as a result of Varroa destructor, an invasive parasitic mite from Asia, which has killed off tens of millions of bees in the US. Thankfully, Australia is the only continent in the world not affected by Varroa destructor.

World Bee Day is now held annually on May 20 to raise awareness of our bees’ plight.

Farmers are reintroducing wild bees and insects back into the pollination process. Plant diversity can boost the population of pollinators like butterflies and beetles, as well as wild bees.

There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide. Gippsland has 100 bee species based in the region. Most of our bees do not produce honey, nor do they look like your classic bee.

Gippsland has native flowering bushlands, reserves, agriculture and solid biodiversity, which means we have a thriving beekeeping community (see below for the list), and in turn, happy bees. But we can’t get complacent about protecting our wild spaces.

Despite not being the original habitat of honey bee species, Gippsland is in a position to produce bioactive honey at all times of the year. How? We could invest in Leptospermum, a genus of trees and shrubs that contribute to the production of bioactive honey, such as the famous Manuka honey. This would be an environmental and agricultural win for our region. To learn more about this opportunity, head down to a monthly meeting hosted by the Latrobe Valley Beekeepers Association at the Moe Library.

The International Rose Garden Festival & Latrobe Valley Beekeepers Association

This November you need to visit Morwell’s Centenary Rose Garden, as they’re hosting a massive festival that will be celebrating 4,000 rose varieties! The festivities will include picnics, workshops, food vans, entertainment, market stalls and bees!

Amongst the roses, the Latrobe Valley Beekeepers Association (LVBA) will set up the Bee Educated trailer to share the importance of bees and beekeeping. LVBA Communications manager and avid bee advocate, Brooke Bridge, is excited for the Rose Festival to be the premier showcase of this wonderful resource, “People can see the inner workings of honey bees up close and in a fun way!”

You could even spot the queen bee. There’ll bee educational videos, free honey and other bee-related products.

The Bee Educated trailer will eventually buzz around Gippsland. “We’re hoping to get take the trailer to schools, markets and community events to get people comfortable with bees, and provide further education on the importance of pollinators in our environment and food security,” Brooke added.

Brooke and her team welcome volunteers to join their ever-growing hive. They’re also looking for a permanent clubroom to hopefully offer research opportunities, hands-on beekeeping experiences, and courses in beekeeping from. Brooke excitedly shares that, “We want to make Latrobe Valley the honey and beekeeping capital of Australia”.

Also joining the Rose Festival is everyone’s favourite gardening guru and bee advocate, Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia.

Mark down November 16 & 17 in your calendar and get to the International Rose Garden Festival in Morwell.

What can we do to keep bees happy and healthy?

Embrace having a pollinator hedgerow: a small strip of native weeds and flowers placed around the edges of fields. These are a great, consistent food resource for wild insects and bees.

Plant more native and bee-friendly plants in your garden. Head here to find some awesome ones: www.rooftophoney.com.au/pages/bee-friendly-plants

Buy local honey and support local beekeepers. (Did you know that eating honey that’s local to your area will help with your nasty hayfever?)

Don’t eat honey? Buy organic, local produce, as this supports the farmers that aren’t spraying their farms with pesticides.

Get involved in a local bee-keeping group. We’re lucky to have a collection of really amazing apiary associations in Gippsland.

You can adopt a beehive through programs like www.adoptabeehive.com.au.

Get your bee-education through some great podcasting. My favourite episodes (and podcasts, accessible via Spotify) I’ve come across are:

‘On Beeing’ by 99% Invisible

‘How can we be less rude to bees?’ by Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

There are some great events coming up that should bee on your calendar! Read above to learn about one making a buzzzzzzzzzzz.


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