I’m a member of the Nepean Amateur Beekeeper’s Association and we meet every month to talk about bees and check out the club hives. Since it’s winter, we aren’t opening the hives and so it’s a good time to think about what’s going on with bees outside of our little universe. This month, Shona Blair, the CEO of the Wheen Bee Foundation, the mob that owns the farm where I live and work as caretaker, came out to the farm and gave us a great presentation. The club got information and a field trip all rolled into one.
Shona talked for an hour and her presentation was split into 2 major areas: the health benefits of honey (something she worked on while getting her PhD) and the status of the honey bee in Australia. I must confess to being more fascinated with the health stuff but I must admit that the status of the bees is more critical. Ain’t that the way it goes…
I won’t list everything she told us (since it would take an hour to read) but here are my highlights:
- Honey works to heal wounds and burns on several fronts including (but not limited to): starving the bacteria of water, providing hydrogen peroxide as an antibacterial agent and actually assisting regeneration of tissue (something no lab produced medicine can do). A lot of research is being done to investigate which types of honey work best and how this treatment can be applied in modern hospital situations.
- Honey has been shown to work better than sugar in studies performed in Africa where children suffering diarrhoea are a given standard rehydration treatment using honey instead of sugar. Since honey is often more readily available in remote areas than refined sugar, this is a real win-win.
- Everyone has heard about probiotics for gut health but honey is actually a prebiotic (a new word for me). That means it feeds the good bacteria in our gut and helps them grow and thrive. What’s very cool about this is that the prebiotic aspect works with any honey – it can be heated (like in cakes or a hot cup of tea) or filtered without losing this property. A tablespoon of honey a day helps keep the doctor away!
Bee Status Stuff
- We all know (at least those of us who are bee crazy do) that, globally, 1 out of every 3 mouthfuls of food comes from a bee pollinated plant, but Shona gave some examples that aren’t commonly considered like onions and carrots. Sure, we don’t need bees to produce the vegetable but, if we want seeds so we can have food next year too, we need bees to pollinate the flowers.
- In Australia, nearly two-thirds of agricultural production benefits from honey bee pollination (now that’s an economic fact that should cause people to sit up and take notice).
- Over the past 5 years, the number of commercial beekeepers in Australia has declined by almost 30%. While backyard beekeeping is becoming more popular, commercial beekeeping is on the decline. Adverse weather causing bee deaths and low yields combined with loss of habitat and pesticide poisoning events is taking its toll. And the prices honey attracts just aren’t keeping up, especially with imports undercutting local production. It’s a dangerous decline that could leave our agriculture in a bad way, only worsened if varroa ever hits our shores and wipes out feral bee populations which currently do a lot of the heavy lifting in the pollination game.
- There is some good news though, promising research is being done in many areas, some of it sponsored by the Wheen Bee Foundation, that will help beekeepers and bees alike. Let’s hear it for those leading the charge in helping bees which have survived for scores of millions of years in spite of, not because of, humans.