The Buzz on Bees

Author: Jennifer Schell  •  Date: March 17, 2014  •  Appears in: Community, Farmers, News

The Buzz on Bees

As farmers continue to deservedly attain celebrity status these days amongst communities involved in the food revolution and/or the eat/shop local movements, there is one special type of farmer that actually holds the key to our existence: the bee farmer.

Many believe that if bees became extinct, our food supply will shut down and humanity will cease to exist? This is serious stuff - especially when we are learning that our bee population is diminishing due to our involvement with genetically modified crops.  We need to band together to educate our world about the importance of this buzzing little honeymaker to ensure its survival in a natural world.

Thanks to bee farmers (bee keepers or apiculturists) who are working hard to drive this distress message into the masses, some progress is being made.  People are becoming alarmed and are beginning to ask questions.  Why are dead hives being reported in the news?  One of the biggest issues today is the discovery that many of these hives have been proven to have been feeding on GMO crops.[i]  

A local bee farmer explains, “it is not the adult bee that is the only concern, it is the hive.  The nectar and pollen being brought back by the worker bees from the GMO crops is incomplete therefore causing malnourishment of the eggs and affecting the 2nd and 3rd generations resulting in the collapse of the hive.  It is like feeding the baby bees garbage.”

(GMO crop farmers have been said to respond that ONLY 15% of the honeybee population is dying as a result of this “poisoning”.  This is an outrageous statement to make about this crucial species to our life cycle!)

Some cool bee facts:

- The average honeybee only makes 1/12 tsp of honey in its lifetime.  This is why where are an astounding 60,000 bees per hive!

-Bees fly at about 24 km per hour.  Apiaries try to heavily plant the area with heritage plants that their bees can feed on so they won’t venture out.  The farther they have to fly, the more honey they will have to use as fuel.

- Wasps and hornets are carnivores and are known to attack hives. Because of this problem there are guard bees stationed outside the hive to protect against intruders.  There is a “rotation of duties” within the hive so guarding is not a lifetime occupation.

- The drone is basically a male gigolo bee that gets to laze around the hive eating honey and romancing the Queen without any other actual work duties – they don’t have a stinger either.

Apis Millifera bees (also known as the Western honeybee species) are commonly farmed.  These bees were originally imported from Europe and are crossbred with other bees to strengthen the hive.  The Queens are flown in from Kona, Hawaii in first class (only the best for these Divas!) and then here is an introduction period to the hive where the Queen is protected from the all of the female worker bees who occupy the hive and slowly introduced.  If she is introduced too quickly she will be killed.  Queens mate only during the initial mating flight and during that time collect enough sperm to last her lifetime of laying eggs which is 2-4 years before she begins to slow down in laying.  She can lay around 1,700-2,000 eggs a day – more than her body weight.

It has always confused me when I have seen different names on honey packaging ie. Clover Honey, Elderflower Honey, Lavender Honey – how the heck do they know which plant the bees are feeding from?  Through a process of tasting each frame of honey, a trained palate (Sommeliers are particularly good at this) can determine the different flavours and aromas that would have been imparted by the particular plant.

Please book a tour at your local apiary today, buy local honey and help spread the word about the immediate dangers that are facing our bees and our futures.


Jennifer Schell


Jennifer Schell is a respected columnist and editor of B.C. Food & Wine Trails Magazine. She is the author of current bestselling cookbook, The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine & Cheese Maker – An Okanagan Cookbook, winner of that Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Local Cuisine Book, Canada and shortlisted to win Best in the World. Born and raised on an apple orchard in East Kelowna, Jennifer is a passionate supporter of BC’s vibrant farming, food and wine industry and has provided a creative lens inside the Valley’s magical landscape and its people.
Read more by Jennifer Schell


One of the most common ways beekeepers tell the different honey flavors apart is knowing where the hive is placed. Bees can only fly about 2km from their hive, so if the hive is in a blossoming orchard, or field of lavender - they know what kind of honey they will get. Another way is by the color of the wax that seals or 'caps' the honey in the comb. Very light/almost transparent wax is often clover; bluish-grey belongs to hockweed. That being said, the nuances of flavors need to be enjoyed by the humans. Grab a spoon and dig in to find your favorite!
– Erin Nicholson

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