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Why We Need Bees for Agriculture

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If you’ve eaten a lettuce salad, some fruit or even nuts today, chances are you have a bee to thank.  Even if you don’t eat honey, that delectable byproduct of the bee’s busy work, you wouldn’t be dining well at all without the tiny creature.  Agriculture experts know protecting honeybees is integral to our food system.
Virginia & Carl Webb Examining Hive

“Honeybees are intimately related to agriculture,” explains Virginia Webb.  “Two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables are pollinated directly by beneficial pollinators, and more specifically the honeybee, that’s why it’s so important.”

When I visited the Webb family’s North Georgia farm in May, Virginia had just returned from a visit to Guyana, in South America.  “I’ve been fortunate to work with the US Department of Agriculture, USAID (US Agency for International Development) specifically, in the Farmer to Farmer exchange program where I’m traveling to other countries teaching beekeeping.”  Farmers in Guyana are learning the importance of beekeeping’s symbiotic relationship with cash crops like melons and lettuce.  She has also taught beekeeping to farmers in the impoverished island nation of Haiti.

Bumblebee in My Yard
Virginia has given educational talks to thousands of US schoolchildren and adults each year.   She explains, “When a honeybee visits a flower it sticks its head into the blossom itself to gather nectar. In doing so the honeybee and other pollinators, they have hairs on their body, it’s gonna pass the anther which has the pollen on the flower and it’s gonna brush some pollen onto its head or its body.  When it goes to visit another flower, the same variety, it will again stick its face into the flower, it’ll pass the stamen, which is the part that the pollen grain comes to.  The pollen will travel down and produce a fruit.  That’s called plant sex or pollination.”  Mtn Honey was involved in producing an educational honeybee movie that you can watch on YouTube, explaining exactly how pollination works.
Beehives at Edge of UT Organic Farm
If you’ve had garden vegetables like cucumbers that seemed to grow a bit, then stop, it may have been from inadequate pollination.  Virginia says a watermelon flower, for instance, needs about a dozen visits from a pollinating insect before the fruit will grow to its fullest potential.  Pollination also helps legumes or beans, as well as the cotton that provides much of our clothing.  This is so essential that some migratory beekeepers work renting their hives from field to field, supporting healthy crop growth.  More and more organic farms, like the one at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, have their own beehive to give crops a boost.

Virginia and her husband, Carl, avoid using fungicides, insecticides or pesticides in their gardening areas or beehives.  The more natural approach seems to benefit the entire ecosystem.  Virginia says, “If you’re using pesticides incorrectly in your garden, then you’re going to kill the beneficial pollinators. You’re also going to lessen the yield and the quality of the food that you get within your garden itself. I know that we need to use pesticides on some occasions, but they need to be used in a proper manner. Read the label, and it tells you the proper time of using the pesticides in your garden.”

Virginia Webb
Exclusively keeping Russian bees helps Mtn Honey maintain more natural methods, “That’s one of the reasons that we wanted to go to that, is that we didn’t have to use those harsh chemicals within the hive to kill parasitic mites.”  The Webbs use Russian bees to produce their world-famous honey, and also sell a few Russian queen bees each year.  Carl explains, “Everybody wants them, but they’re just not available.  Particularly those sideliners and small beekeepers, hobby beekeepers really love them because that way they live and they don’t have to use all these chemicals in the hive.”
Collecting Pollen from Hive
Frame Full of Honey
“It’s important that we maintain healthy beehives.” stressed Virginia, “Our US government understands and recognizes the importance of pollinators within the United States and they work very closely with the beekeepers in order that we have healthy bees.  We cannot remain a free and prosperous country if our food source is controlled by someone else.”

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