Berry Picking and Bees

July 1, 2015

Every summer since our children were old enough to toddler around, I have taken them berry picking at a local family-run farm, Butler’s Orchard. While we all enjoy the delicious fresh fruit and the resulting jam and baked goods we make from our haul, it is the ritual of the outing that appeals to me most. I love that the children have fun running around the orchard, stuffing themselves full of berries, and filling their buckets full of gorgeous fruit (or not, depending upon the other distractions of the farm and their level of motivation).

Each year, we talk about the effort and care involved in taking care of the fruit trees and how pollinators are essential to ensure a bountiful harvest. While they know that the bees at our Bee America apiary help take care of the plants and trees in our own neighborhood, our bees’ work pales in comparison to the scale of pollination required for Butler’s Orchard, not to mention commercial crops. This year while filling our buckets with the largest, most perfect blueberries I have ever seen, I asked them, “Can you imagine a world without blueberries?” They blinked at me, not answering—perhaps not understanding the question. I continued, “If there were no more honey bees in the world, a lot of the fruits and vegetables you like would disappear too.” 

In fact, one-third of all fruits and vegetables are pollinated by honey bees. Depending on the type fruit, honey bee pollination is necessary for its development, while with other fruits, their pollination helps to increase the crop’s yield and/or quality. Amazingly, 75% of the world's food supply is either directly or indirectly dependent upon honey bee pollination. However, pollination—from a bee’s perspective—is not their principal job, but is actually the result of their nectar (i.e., food) collecting. Unfortunately, excessive use of pesticides and a lack of habitat for their nectar collecting is a major threat to the future health of honey bees.  

The good news is that on a local level you can make a positive difference for honey bees. In your home environment, you can plant a variety of multi-season flowering plants and also encourage native species in your landscape. If you have a lawn, seeding a portion of it with clover, which dies out in mid-summer, provides a valuable nutritional source for bees and also fixes your yard with nitrogen for improved soil quality. Avoid chemical pesticides and seek out alternative pest and disease management strategies such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). And, most importantly, if you see a honey bee flying around you, please don't hurt it! Honey bees, which are fuzzy-looking, are often confused—especially by children—with yellow jacket-type hornets, which have similar coloring, but are smooth and shiny-looking. You can help save the honey bees…pass this information on to a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker today!