Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bee More Thankful (and more Careful)

Just as a true appreciation for wine is impossible without an understanding of the grape, an appreciation of mead is incomplete without an understanding of the honeybee. After all, they are the little guys that make our hobby possible.

My early childhood memories of bees are not happy ones. During the summers in West Virginia, the ground was covered with clover, and countless honeybees buzzed from flower to flower gathering nectar.

My friends and I would run barefoot through the cool grass in my yard, and occasionally we would step on a bee. It wasn't intentional, but we certainly paid the price for our inconsiderate footing. I remember picking barbed stingers out of my feet on many occasions, and my mom would rub a baking soda paste onto the wound to draw out the poison and relieve the itching.

I also remember my dad using our abundance of honeybees to treat his arthritis. He'd go into the yard and pluck a clover flower while a bee was sitting on it. Then he would gently grasp the bee with two fingers, place them on an aching joint and blow on them to trigger their sting reflex. He swore it worked. I didn't have the nerve to purposely make a bee sting me -- but I didn't have arthritis either, so I guess I lacked the necessary motivation.

My interest in mead has stirred up those childhood memories and kindled an interest in bees. So, here's some fun facts for you:
  • Honey bees can beat their wings nearly 12,000 times per minute.
  • Bee hives work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Honeybees tell each other where to find honey with a dance that communicates distance and direction.
  • The typical hive can have as many as 50,000 bees.
  • The hive's workers are females, although they are sexually immature and cannot mate.
  • Honeybees typically only live about 30 days.
  • Honey is regurgitated nectar. Yummy.
  • A worker bee will only produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey during her life.
  • Bees must fly about 50,000 miles and collect nectar from two million flowers to make a pound of honey.
  • There is enough energy in a pound of honey to allow a bee to fly around the world.
  • Older bees teach the younger ones how to make honey.
Let's break that down. For a gallon of Joe's Ancient Orange mead, using three pounds of honey,
  • 150,000 bee miles were flown
  • 6 million flowers were visited
  • 2,304 bees worked their entire lives (and worked themselves to death)
  • 1,194,393,600,000 wing beats occurred
If working themselves to death is not enough, bees currently face some serious challenges to their survival. Bees have been disappearing in huge numbers, and a mysterious phenomena called Colony Collapse Disorder has farmers very concerned about the survival of this little creature, which is the workhorse of agricultural pollination.

There are a number of things you can do to help. You could plant sunflowers, or visit the District Direct website to learn about other ways to get involved.

So, when you sip a sweet glass of mead, say a little prayer of thanks for the bees that worked tirelessly to create the main ingredient -- and please walk more carefully through the clover.

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