5 Easy Ways to Help Bees this Summer

It is an unavoidable reality. Our bees are in trouble. As we become increasingly aware of the issues facing our pollinators and the detrimental impact their decline will have on our local and global food supply, we’re all looking for ways to help. Here are five EASY ways to help local bee populations that take very little time, effort and money.

5. Put out a water dishIMG_0652

Bees are thirsty! They seek out shallow water sources to replenish from, so consider putting out a saucer of fresh water in your garden or on your patio. If you keep it full, in a few days time you will find that you have regular visitors. Bees are notoriously bad swimmers, though, so if you’re using something larger like a bowl or have a bird bath, consider putting a rock or some pebbles for the bees to perch on to drink safely.

4. Plant flowers

Bees are starving; one of the best things you can do to immediately benefit local pollinators is plant food in the form of annual or perennial flowers, as well as flowering trees and shrubs.IMG_0551 Plant in clumps, choosing  flowers of a variety of colors and shapes that bloom at different times throughout the year. Choose flowers native to your area. Native plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved and subsequently, have additional advantages. They are adapted to local soils and climate conditions, typically require less water and are more often resistant to harmful insects and disease. Additionally, wildlife evolves with plants; therefore, local pollinators have a strong preference for native flowering plants.

Just be sure you do not purchase flowers that have been sprayed with neonics!

PhotoGrid_1432300694885It can be a devastating realization for someone that they may have inadvertently killed or weakened the bees they were trying to benefit by purchasing pollinator-attracting plants from a large retailer or major nursery. Home Depot and Lowe’s have recently made this easier on consumers by voluntarily labeling their plants. Albeit it is in tiny font, tucked away at the base of the plant on a separate, hard to spot, easy to dislodge secondary label, but it’s there. Usually. Unfortunately, the majority of their plants are still currently treated but, in response to customer demand, both major retailers have announced plans to phase out neonic treated plants by 2019. So, in the mean time, be vigilant.

3. Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers at your home

Science has proven time and time and time and time again these are harmful to bees. Specifically, neonicotinoids (neonics) and glyphosate, found in the ever popular RoundUp. Not only are these killing bees, they are harmful to you and your children and are contaminating our soil and water supply. Please stop using them. Seek alternative methods. Pull the weeds by hand, or BONUS: if they flower, just leave them. Bee food.

2. Buy LocalIMG_1413a

Local fruits and veggies, local meat and, of course, local honey! Get to know your farmer/grower/beekeeper. Ask them questions; go visit their property with your children. In addition to supporting pollinators, buying local reduces emissions, leaving you cleaner air and water, helps strengthen your local economy, and bolster your community’s knowledge, health and ecological longevity.

1. Encourage and educate others

We can talk about wide spread regulation of pesticides and grand conservation efforts all we want, and trust me that is being done at length, but that takes time. The quickest way to make a positive impact is to start now in your own community.Talk to your coworkers and the individuals at your place of employment responsible for lawn care; talk to your neighbors and friends about reducing pesticide use and planting pollinator friendly landscaping. Take time to understand how our actions such as urbanization and suburban landscape, the loss of biodiversity through monocrop agricultural practices and pesticide use collectively impact bee populations and how our choices as individuals and communities play a roll in that.

IMG_0658a

Purple Honey in the Sandhills of North Carolina

The illustrious Purple Honey has made a show-stopping appearance in our hives.

We could not have been more shocked to find it there upon a small impromptu harvest yesterday and are still reeling from our discovery. Although Central North Carolina is the best known region for this rare occurrence, we had previously spoken to beekeepers that had been in the area over 30 years and had never seen purple honey in their hives; so we never really expected to find it in ours.

Interestingly, of the two side-by-side hives in our apiary, we only pulled purple honey from one of them. We had always assumed that the bees from both hives were likely foraging in the same areas. As only one hive produced purple honey, this is apparently not the case. Even more interestingly, it is not clear where this purple honey comes from.

IMG_13901

There are three prominent theories, but it is still scientifically unknown. Let that just sink in for a moment. In 2014 we do not know how this rare but well-known occurrence happens. That is completely and utterly amazing.

One theory is that the bees eat the fruit of blueberries, blackberries or elderberries, causing the purple color. To be clear, we both believe this to be the least likely cause of purple honey. First, bees occasionally, but very rarely consume the juice of fruit. It would be unlike that enough of them would do so to deeply tint several frames of honey. Secondly, those types of berries are few and far between in our hives’ foraging range and have wrapped up peek production well before the colored honey is found in the frame. Additionally, honey is produce from nectar. Although fruit juice is a similarly sugar-rich substance, it is not a direct substitute. Nectar is thicker than fruit juice, more similar to the viscosity of honey, whereas fruit juice is more similar to the viscosity of water. We also already know that the color of honey changes dependent on the source of nectar. For example, Orange Blossom Honey is very light and golden, where as Avocado Blossom Honey is dark with a greenish-brown hew. And finally, these berries are found throughout every zone in the US and most of the rest of the world. It would not make sense then that Purple Honey is predominantly found in only one region of North Carolina; albeit only rarely at that.

Another theory is that it comes from the nectar of a specific plant that grows in the forested areas of Central North Carolina. The argument is that it is a plant less-favored by bees and only foraged on dry years or when food is less plentiful. To that point, it has not been an unusually dry year in our region. I have heard mixed information as to what plant that may be, but Kudzu seems to be the most predominantly sited in the beekeeping community. This is certainly a possibility as Kudzu grows rampant throughout the Southern States, but I feel inclined to draw attention again to the wide growth range of Kudzu throughout the South, and the relatively small region that purple honey is found in.

The final theory behind purple honey revolves around varying mineral content of the soil that nourish bee-frequented crops. The Sandhills of Central North Carolina are a grower’s nightmare, full of hard-packed, acidic clay and sand. Could that be it? I really don’t know. And neither do the experts. The result of North Carolina State University’s professor, John Ambrose’s study concluded that nothing was as it seemed. “It’s one of those things that people want to believe their eyes,” Ambrose says. “The best explanation is usually the simplest, but in this case, it’s not.”

IMG_1357IMG_1360IMG_1364

IMG_1380IMG_1385

So although we can not explain our stunningly deep purple honey, we can tell you we’re lucky enough to have it for this fleeting moment. We can also tell you it’s delicious.