Judging by the surplus of sneezes and itchy eyes, it’s safe to say allergy season is upon us. Red-nosed visitors flood farmers markets in search of nature’s remedy for pollen’s punishment—honey.
Honeybees have been working especially hard in the past few years to produce enough honey to sustain them through the winter and successfully pollinate more than 100 crop varieties. Hives are collapsing; beekeepers on Long Island continue to lose hives through the winter. Strong evidence points a big finger at neonicotinoids, a major pesticide repeatedly linked to colony collapse disorder. The European Union recently banned its use.
Thankfully the honeybees generously allow us to raid their homes and share their food when our allergies kick in, but not without a few stings. Approximately 25 percent of our food crops rely on the pollinating work of honeybees. Without them we will not only be left sniffling with an unsatisfied sweet tooth throughout the spring, but we will also have to worry about our food supply.
While we patiently wait for apiarists on Long Island to harvest this year’s honey, you can help the bees by keeping an ear and eye out for swarms. Healthy hives get crowded this time of year, which increases their propensity to swarm. Craig Byer of Long Island Honey Bees describes how the queen bee continuously lays eggs in empty cells of wax honeycomb the bees build inside hives. When the cells in the comb are completely filled with pollen and honey, the queen bee doesn’t have anywhere to lay eggs and leaves the hive with her loyal followers in search of a new nesting site.
If you hear a loud buzz coming from what looks like a giant clump of bees hanging off of a tree branch or the like, you’ve found a swarm. There’s no need to fear. Bees are less likely to sting you during a swarm since their abdomen are heavy with honey they gorged before travel, leaving them lethargic and less defensive.
While it might be tempting to say hello, refrain from any amateur apitherapy sessions and call in a local beekeeper like Byer to capture the swarm. This ensures the bees will find a safe place to colonize while leaving you sting free. The honeybees need our help. Let’s thank them for all of the sweetness they share with us by keeping an eye or ear out for them.