WASHINGTON - Many of us swat or shoo away the buzzing bee that invades a summer picnic without realizing that may be upsetting a creature with little interest in human. Environmentalists argue that the striped insect is as important to agriculture as soil or sunshine.
According to a United Nations report, bees pollinate more than 70% of the 100 crop species that provide most of the world’s food. The report says the honeybee may be in danger for reasons ranging from pesticides to a lack of regional plant diversity.
Be nice to bees, advises Jeff Miller of DCHoneybees.com.
Miller says you might not care as much for your dinner if they were not buzzing around your neighborhood.
“If we didn’t have pollinators the only kinds of foods we could eat would be wind-pollinated vegetables such as grasses, grains, grapes things of that nature,” he explains.
Miller's company sells beekeeping supplies. DCHoneybees.com partnered with the Walker Jones Elementary School to start a community garden - tended by students and local volunteers.
“Well, you can’t talk about urban farming without talking about pollinators any more than you could talk about urban farming without talking about water or sunlight,” notes Miller.
“A lot of the aspects of your life are impacted by the pollination services that honeybees provide,” adds researcher Heidi Wolff, who first surrounded herself with bees as a teenager 13 years ago. Now she studies them at George Washington University.
“Plants do not thrive without pollination. They cannot complete their life cycle without pollination. And bees provide that service,” she explains.
While many people worry about bee stings, both Miller and Wolff say that’s a big misunderstanding.
“These are not aggressive beings. They’re rather gentle," Miller insists. "We’ve been trying to prove that with our proximity here.”
Miller explains that after a bee stings a person, their stingers fall off and they die.
“It is a little bit of a kamikaze-type situation," he says, "yeah… the reality is: we haven’t had a stinging incident here [in the garden] anyway.”
Miller says bees don’t care too much about people in the first place.
“Bees are just focused on doing their own work. And they’re not really interested in being bothered by humans," he says. "They’re not interested in you. They’re just there to collect nectar and pollen and bring it back to the colony.”
Miller says it takes about $400 to start your own hive, but that each one yields about 45 kilograms of honey every year. However, Wolff cautions would-be amateur beekeepers to do some research first.
“You don’t just want to get a box of bees, throw it somewhere and just hope you figure it out," she says. "That’s when you get problems. That’s when your neighbors get scared. That’s when people get stung.”
Wolff adds that bees need all the positive press possible, and that irresponsible beekeepers do more harm than good to the pollination process.