‘Honey bees, unlike most other insects are domesticated animals and their numbers are therefore controlled ultimately by human desire for the honey they produce and the pollination services they provide. Estimates by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that, far from falling, the number of hives in the world is increasing by about 2% a year,’ (Honey, I’m home’, The Economist , 22nd June 2019, p.64).
How honey bees work: ‘The average honey bee flies for more than 1,500km in her lifetime, (The Economist, ‘The Honey Trap’, 11th April 2020 p.43). From the Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘All the light we cannot see‘ by Anthony Doerr (4th Estate, 2015 paperback edition): ‘At Madame’s suggestion, they lie down in the weeds, and Marie-Laure listens to honeybees mine the flowers and tries to imagine their journeys as Etienne described them: each worker following a rivulet of odor, looking for ultraviolet patterns in the flowers, filling baskets on their hind legs with pollen grains, then navigating, drunk and heavy, all the way home.’ (See the Podere Forte winery in Tuscany for an example of how to position nectar sources for bee and their hives.)
Paid pollinators: ‘In addition to producing honey, bees have found more lucrative work, pollinating one-third of the crops grown in America. In February and March, when California’s almond trees are blooming about 30bn [bees] are drafted to pollinate California’s 1.3m acres of almond trees. This apian fiesta involves up to 90% of the commercial bee population in America, leaving few bees to pollinate everything else that requires their attention, a source of controversy in agricultural circles. Other crops like raspberries, blackberries, cherries, cantaloupes and apples aren’t as lucrative to pollinate. Longer winters, drier summers and diseases like varrosis have made it harder for bees to survive.’ (‘The Bee’s Needs?, The Economist 01st Sept 2018 p.39). Varrosis is caused by the Varroa destructor mite which attach themselves to bees, weakening or killing them whilst also spreading viruses. Varroa may play a part in colony collapse disorder whereby worker bees desert the hive without warning.
‘A growth industry for owners of bees: pollinating farmers’ crops. In parts of China wild bee populations have been falling because of pesticide use, climate change and diseases such as deformed-wing virus, forcing farmers to pollinate by hand. It is a labour-intensive process and results in lower yields. Around one-third of China’s pear trees are pollinated in this way,’ (The Economist, ‘The Honey Trap’, 11th April 2020 p.43).
China: ‘China’s honey-making industry is by far the world’s largest. The country’s 250,000 beekeepers produce around one-quarter of the global supply. Many of them are itinerant, moving their colonies around the country on lorries in search of pollen and nectar, criss-crossing the western and southern plains’, (The Economist: ‘The Honey Trap’, 11th April 2020 p.43).