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Krupp: The Marvel Of Honeybees

09/19/11 7:55AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) As summer comes to a close, Ron Krupp has been thinking about some of the most dedicated workers in the agricultural community.

(KRUPP) What would our world be without the honey bee? If they ceased to exist, one third of all foods we eat would disappear. I got to thinking about this recently when I attended a talk on The Marvels of Honey Bees at the UVM Horticulture Farm.

Most flowers produce nectar to attract insects, primarily honeybees, so that pollination can take place. Honeybees make honey from the nectar and in so doing pollinate the plants. The worker bees transfer the nectar into a beeswax comb made of six sided cells. Some worker bees also carry pollen. In terms of economic value the workers that collect the pollen are most important to you and me. As she travels from flower to flower the bee brushes off some of the pollen onto a special pollen-receiving structure called the stigma in the center of the flower. This process of pollination allows all flowering crops to reproduce. The value of pollination is 100 times greater than the value of honey.

We've been losing honeybees in record numbers since 2006 due to Colony Collapse Disorder in which the worker bees suddenly disappear. Losses in 2010 averaged about 34 percent. One of the main culprits is the varroa mite. Others believe the loss is due in part to a new class of pesticides called Nicotinoids - produced by Monsanto and banned in Europe. Other environmental pollutants and viruses weaken the immune systems of honey bees and contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder.

The healing properties of honey have been known worldwide for millennia. Researchers in the Netherlands have found that a molecule called defencin-1m, a protein involved in the bee immune system, is the principal antibacterial component in honey. And when it comes to inflammatory diseases, bee stings can be effective. I used to get stung by bees for arthritis in my back. I would take a glass jar into Bill Warnock's backyard and collect about six bees from the hive and then Bill would place the bees on my low back. They would sting and within minutes the pain from both the bees and my arthritis would be gone.

The Vermont Honey Promotion Board represents more than 1000 beekeepers who raise bees mostly for love and honey. They produce about 500,000 pounds of honey annually. Most of it comes from clover, basswood, goldenrod, apple, blackberry, raspberry, sumac, vetch and aster. Because of this variety, no two honeys have the same flavor. While lighter-colored honey is milder in flavor, dark-colored honey is not only stronger in taste but has a higher mineral content and more antioxidents. My favorite honey comes from buckwheat. It's a dark, strong honey with a nut-like flavor that's hard to find these days. To stand in a field of buckwheat with thousands of honey bees humming is like nothing else you'll ever experience. I call it, Serenity Now.

The website for the Vermont Beekeepers Association is www.vtbeekeepers.org If you want to learn more, check out these three films: The Vanishing Bees, Queen of the Sun and Nicotene Bees.

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