Heather Clay

Heather Clay

Honey bees are vital to the environment

The founder of the Urban Bee Network, Heather Clay shares some vital information about why honey bees are crucial to a sustainable planet

Editor’s note: Following is the first in a three-part series written by Heather Clay and supported by the Sustainable Environmental Network Society (SENS).

Honey bees are a vital part of our natural environment. They are responsible for pollinating most of our fruit crops, vegetables, tree-nuts and seeds. There are very few plants (mostly grasses such as wheat, oats, rice, barley, corn) that do not require some form of insect pollination for reproduction.

Although honey bees are adapted to foraging on a wide variety of flowering plants, they are not the only creatures that initiate plant reproduction. Beetles, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds and some bats assist in the transfer of pollen from male anthers to the female ovary of another flower. Pollination is key to producing our food crops. Pollinators are responsible for at least one third of all the food we eat.

By far the most prolific pollinator is the honey bee. There are almost 700,000 colonies of managed honey bees in Canada and many of these are used for commercial pollination of agricultural crops. Beekeepers provide honey bee colonies on a fee-for-service basis to assist farmers increase their crop production.

It has been estimated that honey bees double, and in some cases quadruple, the production of flowering crops. Agriculture Agri-Food Canada has calculated the value honey bees bring to the increase in food crop production is more than $2 billion. With the increase of industrial farming, surging pesticide use and the clearing of land from fence to fence, the populations of native pollinators have been negatively impacted. Managed colonies of honey bees are in big demand. Without honey bees there would be less food, fewer choices and the diminished variety would be more expensive.

Honey bees are not only great pollinators, they also produce our favourite sweetener, honey. Female forager bees collect nectar and pollen to feed the bees and their brood in the hive. The sugary nectar produced by plants is carried back to the bee hive in a special part of the bee’s esophagus that is called a “sac.” On returning to the hive the bee unloads her “sac” of nectar to a waiting worker bee. An enzyme is added to the nectar by the worker bee and she passes the sweet liquid to another worker bee and so on until the water content is reduced from 70 per cent to 20 per cent. It is then placed into a cell of the honey comb. Slowly the plant sugars are converted to honey. Bees help the process by fanning their wings to help evaporation of the excess water. When the honey is ripe, worker bees close the cell with a cap of white wax. Honey is a complex product with less than 18 per cent water and more than 72 per cent of carbohydrates in the form of major monosaccharide and minor oligosaccharide sugars, trace vitamins and minerals.

If stored correctly, honey will last indefinitely. No wonder urban beekeeping is on the rise as more people want to experience the fun and benefits of honey bees in their lives.

Fun Facts

A honey bee colony contains 40,000-80,000 bees.

A teaspoon of honey requires 100,000 foraging trips by honey bees.

One forager bee working 10 hours a day will make 195 trips a day.

A honey bee flies up to 24 km /hr and its wings beat 200 times per second or 12,000 beats /minute.

There are more than 970 species of native bees in Canada — 90 per cent of them are solitary and do not live in colonies.

Trace amounts of vitamins C, B and sometimes A, D and K are present in unheated honey. Honey has antimicrobial properties that make it suitable for treating many conditions caused by bacteria, even Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

Heather Clay was CEO of the Canadian Honey Council and recently founded the Urban Bee Network, www.urbanbeenetwork.ca, a project to provide information for small-scale beekeepers. For more information on SENS, to become a member or to volunteer, please contact Julia at 250-542-0892, or see wwwsensociety.org.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

The Vernon Vipers defeated the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-1 to secure the top spot in the BC Hockey League Vernon pod Friday, May 7, 2021. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
VIDEO: Vipers beat Salmon Arm, clinch top spot in BCHL Vernon pod

Goaltender James Porter Jr. was a wall for the Vipers, who outscored the Silverbacks 3-1 Friday

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

A proposed development would see two four-storey affordable housing complexes erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Arena. (Google Maps)
Local tenants to be prioritized for Armstrong affordable housing project

Staff have drafted an expression of interest to find a developer to move forward with on the project

Cops for Kids riders will be spinning 30 feet in the air on scissor lifts at SaveOn Foods locations in Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna Saturday, May 8, 2021. (File photo)
Cops reach new heights for Okanagan kids

Nor-Val Rentals is doing the heavy lifting Saturday in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Peachland resident and cleanup volunteer Lloyd Stinson Sotas holds up a discarded TV riddled with bullet holes. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
PHOTOS: Peachland residents clean up community watershed

More than 70 people gave back to Mother Earth by assisting with the cleanup

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kelowna OK Tire closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The business will remain closed until May 11

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Most Read