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Celebrating Bees: Happy International Women’s Day

My relationship to bees is a mixed bag of rational awe at what they do and their role in nature, and irrational fear about getting stung. I say irrational not because it’s such a wild notion to think that I might get stung, but because even if I did, it would not be half as bad as my fear makes it out to be (note: I am lucky enough not to be allergic).

Focusing on my awe, I thought I would share a bit about how bees work and why it is so important to respect them, value what they do, and do what we can to create environments and ecosystems that are welcoming to these insects. If the latter is of particular interest, you can read our blog on rewilding honey-bees.

I’ll also throw in a few home remedies for stings, just in case.

Why are bees important?

Bees are the world’s most important pollinator. It is estimated that one third of the food we eat every day depends on pollination by these insects (though other insects, birds, and even bats do their share too).

To make that a bit more concrete, some examples of the foods we could not enjoy without pollination and therefore, bees, include avocados, soybeans, sunflowers, citrus fruit, almonds, clover, alfalfa. If you’re a visual person, check out this supermarket before and after they removed all products dependent on bees – it’s striking.

Beyond our plates, cotton and flax also depend on bees, and many cleaning and beauty products contain beeswax.

I recently found out by watching the first episode of food documentary series Rotten on Netflix that some bee keepers in the US drive all their hives to California so their bees can pollinate the seemingly endless almond orchards, because there aren’t enough local bees to do the job – and the income helps keep them afloat for the rest of the year. In China, they are hand-pollinating orchards!

To get a sense of what else could go wrong without real bees, watch this Black Mirror episode.

The British Bee Keepers’ Association estimated that 39 commercial crops depend on bees, translating to bees having an economic value of 200 million pounds (this was in 2009).

Bees are also a sign of a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem, so their absence tells us as much as their presence.

How does a beehive work?

A hive can have 20 000 – 80 000 bees, increasing its population in summer and reducing it in winter when resources are scarcer.

The Queen is an egg-laying machine, laying up to 2500 eggs a day and up to 2 million eggs in her lifetime (which can be up to five years, though usually with just 2-3 years of egg-laying).

The worker bees are all female and keep the hive going: they tend to the Queen and drones, feed the larvae, ventilate the hive, defend the nest, and forage for pollen and nectar. They live 4-6 weeks and can – in the absence of a queen – lay unfertilized eggs that will become male drones.

The male drones are few (maybe 100 in a hive of 30 000 bees) and their sole role is to fertilize the new queen, which happens outside the hive.

When a hive gets too full, bees “swarm” – meaning the old queen leaves with half the worker bees and goes in search of a new place to call home. However impressive, swarms are not usually dangerous as the bees are protecting their Queen but their focus is on finding a new home so they are typically trying to stay out of trouble. This usually happens late Spring or early Summer.

To find out more, check out the PBS NATURE documentary “The Silence of the Bees” (which I have not watched yet) or their short 3min “Inside the Hive” trailer.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What to do if you or someone near you gets stung?

If there are any signs of allergy, check if the person has an EpiPen on them and administer it before immediately seeking out medical assistance.

For mild or moderate reactions, the three steps to take are to extract the sting, clean the wound, and find relief.

You can find relief by applying a plantain spit poultice (i.e. find clean plantain – not from a busy sidewalk where dogs may have peed on the plant – and chew it for a bit before placing it on the sting). Other options include applying apple cider vinegar (tested and tried, and it works!), baking soda, or honey and turmeric.

Ice can also be used to reduce swelling.

How does this relate to International Women’s Day (IWD)?

Simple: IWD is about celebrating the female in all its forms and given the female nature of bee colonies and bee hives, we thought it would be a good – and different – way to celebrate closer to nature. As the cherry on the cake, did you know that famous women such as Sylvia Plath, Scarlett Johansen, and Maria von Trapp (the inspiration for The Sound of Music) were/are all bee keepers?

Last but not least, if you’re buying flowers for your mother, grandmother, girlfriend, aunt, wife, sister, or friend, consider a potted plant that’s good for bees. That way, even if you’re in an urban environment, you can contribute to making a windowsill, balcony, or garden that much more bee-friendly.




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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Bees: Happy International Women’s Day

  1. Another excellent remedy for bee sting that works quickly and effectively is to cut a piece of onion – first gently rub the juice on the sting and then hold the piece of onion on it 🙂 Also, the homeopathic remedy Apis works a treat (the Helios Basic Kit contains all the most used remedies and an instruction booklet – order it here )

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