Imagine spending your days in a hot, bulky suit braving the buzzing and stings from a swarm of angry insects. Why on earth do beekeepers choose to do this and why is it important for food security?
To make a complex story short:
- Fruit-bearing plants cannot set their fruit without pollination.
- A whopping 90% of flowering plants rely on animal assistance for pollination.
- In South Africa, more than 50 crops rely on insects to form their fruit, and honey bees are by far the most important.
- To meet the demand for pollinator bees in South African agriculture, it needs to be managed on a commercial scale. Enter the beekeepers.
What does the business of bees entail?
Managing hives and placing them in blossoming orchards when they are in peak condition, is the crux of a beekeeper’s job if they specialise in commercial pollination. Although older bees are replaced by younger ones continuously, hives as a unit need to remain healthy throughout the year.
The beekeeper moves the hives from place to place, depending on the season. They do regular inspections to ensure the colony stays healthy and builds up its strength as pollination season approaches.
Brendan Ashley Cooper from Cape Pollination Services says hives are usually placed near energy-dense foods shortly before pollination season starts. The abundance of food encourages the queen bee to lay eggs and the worker bees to strengthen the hive. Hives are then moved into flowering orchards where the food-gathering process has the crucial side effect of pollination.
The season lasts a couple of months as different fruit trees blossom at different times, and the bees are moved from one to the other.
After the insects have done their “job”, they are moved to areas near natural forage so the hive can survive the colder, more restful seasons.
Although honeybees in South Africa are not listed as “threatened”, they are under threat from pests and diseases, dwindling natural forage and pesticides and other pollutants.
And in case you were wondering
Yes, the white beekeeper suits are absolutely necessary!
When a beekeeper opens a hive for inspection, the bees instinctively respond by attacking what they perceive to be a threat. Despite smoke being used to dilute the pheromones with which bees communicate their distress signals to each other, the protective gear quite literally comes between human flesh and thousands of bee stings.
- Queen bee set on giving beekeeping a young and vibrant face
- Believe it or not, your make-up actually has agricultural roots