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August 16, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As Steve Moeller ambles across his field, the dry grass crunches underneath his canvas shoes and dirt crumbles into the widening cracks in the ground. To many Missourians, the drought is a nuisance, but to Steve and other people who depend on the timing of the rain, every day without it causes great concern.
- Honeybees live for 35 days before their wings wear out. When that happens, they can’t go back to the hive, and they die.
- A worker bee will produce about two drops of honey in its lifetime. worker bees are infertile females.
- Honey is the only food in the world that never spoils. Egyptologists have found honey in ancient pyramids that is still good to eat (although it doesn’t necessarily get better with age, just darker).
- Although not proven, some believe eating local honey reduces seasonal allergies because the body builds up immunities to the pollen in the honey.
- What’s the Bees can make honey from any plants that bloom, including tumbleweeds.
- The honeybee was originally brought over by the pilgrims. This is why there is no American honeybee among the various breeds.
- The honeybee is the only insect in the world that produces food we can eat. thanks, bees.
- It takes 556 honeybees to make a pound of honey. Those 556 bees will have to visit approximately 2 million flowers to make that pound of honey.
- Bees fly between two and three miles to gather nectar or pollen, so to make a pound of honey, those 556 bees fly a total of 55,000 miles. That distance is twice the world’s circumference.
Steve doesn’t grow corn or raise cattle, but his crop could soon start to suffer from the lack of rain. He’s an apiarist, or beekeeper, and just as plants need water to survive, Steve’s crop of honeybees needs healthy green plants. With flowers drying up and dying, there are fewer options for hungry bees to gather nectar and pollen, the carbohydrate and protein that combine to make honey.
Bees are instinctive and adapt very well to extreme temperatures, but if they can’t produce enough honey to feed themselves through the winter, Steve will have to start feeding his bees syrup to replace the honey. Right now, the bees’ winter stores, about 5 gallons of honey per hive, are full. But it’s unclear how long the bees can continue to produce sufficient honey if the flowering plants they rely on are dead. If the drought continues, the bees will have to start consuming their supply of honey before winter begins, which puts them in bad shape for the upcoming cold weather.
Steve, whose beekeeping business is called Lone Cottonwood Farm, says he hasn’t had a significant crop, but still has a good supply. His neighbor and fellow apiarist Art Gelder of Walk-About Acres has already noticed the effects of the drought on his bees’ honey production, however. This is the lowest he can recall his honey crop being in recent years. Although honey prices haven’t risen yet, both Art and Steve warn they probably will soon.
“If the fall flowers start blooming, we might get a fall flow, and that will help a little bit,” Art says. “If we don’t get a fall flow, then we’re just not going to have a lot of honey available, at least in this area.”
Steve is having a better harvest than he expected given the drought, but not the bumper crop, or large crop, he’d been hoping for during the unusually warm winter and spring. In the 38 years Steve has been keeping bees, he’s noticed that he tends to have better crops in years of drought than in years of floods, because the bees don’t leave the hives at all when it’s raining. Rain also washes away the nectar from the flowers. Although plants don’t fare well in the heat and dryness, bees themselves can withstand hot summer temperatures better than many other types of animals.
“You’ll see them at the front of the hive fanning their wings,” Art says. “That creates airflow through the hive and cools it down. If it gets really hot, sometimes you might even see that they’ll line the outside of the hive with their bodies, creating shade for the hive.”
While both apiarists’ bees are working hard to stay cool and gather pollen from the few flowering plants that haven’t dried up, Art and Steve remain optimistic. Although Art’s honey crop is low, his bees are still producing enough honey to survive through the winter and even enough for his daughter to make honey ice cream. Steve’s bees are keeping him busy harvesting this year’s crop in his makeshift “honey house.”
“It’s not a bumper crop,” Steve says, shaking his head. “But as I look around at other agriculture crops, such as corn, I feel very fortunate.”