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Volume 15, Issue 3
March 2017


Western honeybee Apis mellifera

Let the honeybee be...

By Shannon Curran

It's starting…Spring. I smell it in the air, see it contained within the buds on the tree branches, hear the arrival of birds awaiting some well deserved warmth, and it reminds me how important the first flower blossom can be. For one creature in particular, it is like seeking water in the desert after a tiresome, exhausting months-long journey. Now is the time you will start to see the emergence of the honeybee.

After being cooped up in their hives all winter, spring beckons the worker bees to get out into the world and start doing their job—to feed their mighty queen! Recently it has come to my attention that there are a few of us that may not be able to distinguish a honeybee from any other type of flying insect. Let’s change that.

Honeybees are quite cute, in my opinion. They are fuzzy, with black and caramel colored stripes, covered with microscopic hairs that will collect tiny particles of pollen from each flower they visit. If you look closely enough at one while it's planted itself nearby, you will see ballpoint pen sized orange or yellowish balls attached to their legs. This is part of what feeds the queen in the hive that is contained within amazingly produced honeycombs.

Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvania, is the ground-nesting variety.

However, you might see a nest hanging from the eaves of your home, or see insects flying in and out of a hole in the ground, and be intrigued thinking you've got honeybees. You probably don't. You've got some sort of wasp, which is probably a yellow jacket—shiny, bright yellow and black striped, with no cute hairs or pollen attached to the legs. They are also probably aggressively attacking any food scraps, soda spills, or you.

Honeybees, on the other hand, do not swarm food scraps. They are after nectar and pollen from blossoming plants, trees, and flowers. They will not harm you, unless you are a direct threat to their hive. They will only sting you once, and then they die. Yellow jackets are a bit harsher and don't mind stinging you multiple painful times.

You might be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” The answer is, we need bees to survive. It's truly that simple. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 4,000 types of pollinating bees that ensure we have food to consume. Bees directly pollinate 60% of the food we consume in the United States.

bee plant poster
If you are interested in growing a bee garden, here is a great starter guide to helping these creatures flourish. Click the image to download a full-size printable PDF.

I think it's safe to say that a large number of us take this process for granted. It is a process that is being threatened more and more each year. It is no mystery to me, someone who is surrounded by nature daily, that insecticides and pesticides are directly attacking the pollinator populations. Neonicotinoids, a component of many insecticides, poison everything, especially the pollen and nectar these bees bring back to their hives (which eventually kills the entire colony). Countries such as France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia have banned the use of these toxins due to the dramatic decline in bee populations over the last five years. Back in 2013, Portland decided to ban the use of these toxins on city-owned properties after the disturbing death of 50,000 bumblebees in Wilsonville.

Without bees, there would be no almonds, as they are 100% dependent on pollinators. We would also lose Oregon-grown blueberries and cranberries, along with a long list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

So, what can we do locally? Stop using herbicides on lawns! I know that the dandelion can be looked at as a weed, but in reality, it may be the first glimpse of food a honeybee will see after a long winter. Chemical-free is the way to be!

There are several species of ground-nesting bees in our area, so please be sure you have yellowjackets before you use insecticides.

One of my favorite resources is the book titled Honeybee, Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper, by C. Marina Marchese. Mother Earth News is also a great resource for supporting the pollinator population.

If you see a honeybee swarm in a tree, shrub, or attached to a stump, please contact Portland Urban Beekeepers via their swarm hotline at (503) 444-8446 . They will alert local beekeepers in the area to assist you. Roots Farm and Apiary is also a local resource to help relocate hives. Contact Jennifer Lytle at (503) 939-9380. They sell local pollen and honey too!

There is no time like the present. We are all facing some environmentally challenging times that need our attention. Each one of you can help make a difference in just this one case, if not many more. Bees need you. We need them. Let's work together as a community to let the honeybee be.

[Ed. Note: the insecticide that will be used in the campaign to eradicate the destructive and dangerous Japanese beetle infestation does not harm bees or other pollinators.]



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Published monthly by Cedar Mill News LLC
Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291
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