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The buzz on honey bees

By Staff | Mar 14, 2015

Don’t look now, but there’s a giant honey bee behind you. Eve VanDen Broek, of Pella, speaks about the importance of bees Saturday morning during the 37th annual Fort Dodge Area Gardeners Garden Seminar at Iowa Central Community College.

By HANS MADSEN

hmadsen@messengernews.net

FORT DODGE – There was something abuzz Saturday morning during the 37th annual Fort Dodge Area Gardeners Garden Seminar in the Bioscience and Health Sciences Building at Iowa Central Community College.

Bees – or since the real ones are still hiding out in their hives – photographs of bees filled the room during a presentation by Eve VanDen Broek, of Pella.

She has about 20 hives at her rural home.

The honey they produce, if properly stored, will out- last her by centuries.

“They found honey in urns in the pyramids,” she said. “It was still viable, although I’m not sure I’d try some.”

She said the honey bee was brought to North America by European settlers in the 1600s. There are currently more than 2,000 species here with 200 different species just in Iowa.

So what do bees have to do with gardening? It turns out they are important for pollinating many plants that end up on the table from the garden.

“We need these bees and the other insects for our garden,” she said.

They are critical to the food supply as a whole also.

She showed a photograph of a well-stocked produce section in a Whole Foods. then another photo of the products that would left if bees were not available to pollinate.

“They took everything away that was pollinated,” she said. “It went from 453 things to 237 – that’s what your grocery store would look like without pollination.”

In a hive, there are drone bees -whose only purpose is to mate with the queen bee – and then the aptly named worker bees who do, well, all the work.

That includes gathering pollen, nectar and water, fanning the hive to maintain its nearly constant 93-degree temperature, feeding the larvae, guarding the entrance, building the wax cells, cleaning and fanning the honey to cure it and reduce the moisture content.

They are busy.

The whole 50,000-bee colony depends on the queen.

“She is all important,” VanDen Broek said. “With- out her, your hive is doomed, take very good care of her.”

It’s no secret that the number of bees has been declining in the past decade. She cited a variety of different factors that have contributed to that including mites, various viruses and bacteria, herbicide and pesticide exposure, lack of genetic diversity, drought, climate change, poor nutrition due to the loss of food source diversity and bees being moved from location to location. Many hives are trucked to California during the winter then are shipped back in the spring.

She offered local gardeners a number of ways they can help the bees.

“Buy organic from local farmers during the market season,” she said. “You can also plant a bee friendly gar- den.”

While bees enjoy almost any plant that produces pollen, the goal is to have something in bloom during the whole season for them to enjoy.

She also suggests avoiding the use of synthetic chemi- cals and opting for organic alternatives, integrated pest management and even leav- ing brush piles for them to hide in and giving them a source of water.

There’s another way to help.

“Buy local honey, pay a fair price and help them out,” she said.

Of course, a discussion of bees is not complete without a pun or two. Besides the bees knees and busy as a bee, VanDen Broek has also had experience with another bee saying.

“I’ve literally had a bee in my bonnet,” she joked.

Sonja Cafferty, of Rockwell City, attended the seminar with a few years of bee- keeping under her own bon- net. She recently had her hives die off and is looking to start over.

She too has adopted some bee friendly practices.

“We don’t kill our dandelions,” she said. “I love dan- delions now.”

Learning about the mites might help her too.

“Now I know what to look for,” she said.

The second speaker at the seminar was Joe McNally, the Iowa Arboretum horticultural projects manager.

He talked about the advantages of organic gardening.

“It’s really about the dirt,” he said. “If you have healthy soil, you’ll have healthy plants.”

While organic tomatoes might not offer any flavor advantage, he said they do offer a chemical-free meal and a benefit to the environment they’re grown in.

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