OHIO VALLEY — While it might sound corny to say flower gardens are abuzz this summer, it would be accurate.
Butterflies go about their business silently, but the beating wings of bees are quite audible. If gardens are a bit noisy at the moment, keep in mind bees are working hard at their job as pollinators, and their efforts in gathering pollen will manifest later in the honey they produce.
According to Scientific American, the buzzing sound we hear is because bees can flap their wings at a 230 beats per second, causing the air around the bee to vibrate. Humans interpret that vibration as a buzzing sound. The larger the bee, the slower the wingbeat and the lower the pitch of the buzz.
Some types of bees are capable of vibrating their wing muscles and middle segment of their body while visiting flowers. The vibrations shake the pollen off the flower’s anthers and onto the bee’s body. Some of that pollen is deposited on the next flower the bee visits, resulting in “buzz-pollination.” The remainder of the pollen is groomed by the bee onto special pollen-carrying structures (on the hind legs of most bees) and taken back to the hive.
Bumblebees can be quite loud during their “buzz pollination.” Since honeybees are incapable of pollinating in this manner, they are usually quieter than bumblebees when foraging, although large numbers can still be quite uproarious.
There are many types of bees, including solitary or native bees, bumble bees, and feral bees, but in this series the focus will be on honey bees and the sweet nectar they produce.
National Geographic explains the division of labor of a hive as the following: One queen runs the whole hive. Her job is to lay the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. The queen also produces chemicals that guide the behavior of the other bees. Workers are all female and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, and to clean and circulate air by beating their wings. Drones are male bees, and their purpose is to mate with the new queen. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer, but come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out.
West Virginia University Extension Service Agricultural and Natural Recourse (ANR) Agent for Mason and Putnam Counties Ben Goff said the number of apiers has increased in the past few years.
“There is a growing number of hives in the area,” Goff said. “More and more people are interested in purchasing and using local honey, and the demand has led an increase in people deciding to raise bees.”
According to data provided Goff, in 2020 the production of honey by 6,000 registered hives in West Virginia contributed over $1 million to the state’s economy. The collective hives produced 276,000 pounds of honey, which is an average of 46 pounds per hive.
It can be expensive to start and maintain a hive, and requires hours of working with the bees and equipment. Apiarists have an initial investment, and usually have to wait two to three years before a hive becomes profitable. In addition to building beehives and securing bees for the colony, each new hive is required to be inspected and registered in an effort to keep the bees healthy due to recent setbacks in bee populations.
He said that while not an easy process, it can be quite rewarding for dedicated beekeepers. The positive aspects of beekeeping are the benefit to the environment from the efficient cross pollination the bees provide, and it has the potential for profit from the sale of the honey.
Honeybees are not the only pollinators, but they are an extremely important in the overall pollinator ecosystem.
Goff said the impact on the food chain cannot be minimized,” One out of every three bites of food is due to a pollinator.”
Upcoming stories will feature beekeepers in Gallia and Meigs counties in Ohio, and Mason County, W.Va.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.