Fruits of their labor
Wed, 03/15/2023 - 10:43am admin
Okay, I admit it. I dislike the pollen, the storms and wind and the warm spring temperatures that I know will lead to another long, hot Lowcountry summer. But to everything there is a season, and I do love some things about this time of year.
The blooming flowers with their vibrant colors, the wondrous smells they bring and the tireless work of the honeybees that they attract are some of my favorite parts of March on Daniel Island.
My wife Jenny enjoys growing our own fruits and vegetables. We have blueberry, thyme, basil, rosemary and mint plants. I love home-grown jalapenos and we enjoy our fresh lettuce and tomatoes.
I was skeptical 25 years ago when Jenny said she was planting an orange tree in our yard in Jacksonville, Florida. That is too far north, I thought. The second season it yielded more than 100 oranges. I knew better than to scoff this time and our citrus trees are flourishing.
I was delighted recently when our lemon and orange trees burst into their seasonal flowers. The smell of citrus trees this time of year is heavenly and one cannot blame the honeybees for doing what comes naturally and bathing in the nectar and pollen. Unbeknownst to the bees, of course, is the fact that without them much of this might never happen at all.
Honeybees, our best-known bees and pollinators, are relative newcomers and arrived in North America with European settlers in the 1600s. Prior to that, pollination was left to the wind, other insects and native bee species.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are some 4,000 native species of bees in North America with a few smaller than a grain of rice. About 10 percent of them have not even been named and some are so specialized that they only pollinate one specific plant.
Today, in the U.S., we are all probably most familiar with the western or European honeybee (Apis mellifera). In 2019, U.S. bees produced 160 million pounds ($340 million worth) of honey, many tons of beeswax (marketed for use in candles, polishes, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics) and most significantly, some $15 billion in added crop value through pollination. An estimated 80 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables are (or can be) pollinated by bees.
There are entire books written about the amazing honeybee and I can’t do it justice here. And sadly, I must close with a word of caution. The future of the honeybee in America is precarious. Apiculture or beekeeping, faces threats from the invasive varroa mite, a horrible and prevalent disease known as American Foulbrood (AFB), pesticides and other bee and insect species.
I hope we can help our little friends survive these challenges because they do immeasurable good for us and for our environment.
And on a selfish note, I absolutely love honey, especially the orange blossom variety, over a morning bowl of yogurt!
Editor’s note: To learn more about honeybees on Daniel Island, read Elizabeth Bush’s March 9 feature story, “Un-Bee-Lievable Rescue” online at bit.ly/3JsSUkD.