“A good portion of our food,” John says, “wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for pollination.”
And bees play a central role in this process. In fact, according to the National Resources Defense Council, “More than $15 billion a year in U.S. crops are pollinated by bees, including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa, and almonds. U.S. honey bees also produce about $150 million in honey annually. But fewer bees means the economy takes a hit: The global economic cost of bee decline, including lower crop yields and increased production costs, has been estimated at as high as $5.7 billion per year.”
John shares that, as one example, almond production is almost entirely dependent upon bee pollination. So, each year, hundreds of thousands of bees are shipped to California for a month for almond pollination. If the idea of pollination hive rental is unfamiliar to you, John explains how hives are often kept in California and Florida during winter months. Those bees first do their pollination work in the warmer states, including orange pollination in Florida, before being sent to states with colder temperatures. But, even with that system, California needs to use additional imported bees during core pollination times.
As the weather warms up across the county, the bees that winter in warmer states are slowly sent through the northern ones. Florida-based hives might be used for apple and cherry pollination in Ohio, then sent to Michigan to pollinate fruit trees and clover. Through a similar process, California hives might end up in Wyoming.
The need for these bees is so great, though, that other solutions are sometimes needed. In western Sandusky County in Ohio, for example, a cucumber farmer struggled to have enough pollination hives available to him, so he became a beekeeper himself. He now has enough cucumbers to sell to packing plants in NW Ohio, and his wife and daughters sell their honey at farmer’s markets for another revenue stream. Here’s another option. John keeps his bees, year-round, leasing out some of the hives during pollination season, harvesting honey when it’s time, and caring for the bees during the winter months.
The one-word response to that question is “no.” Here’s more.
“Bees will travel about two to five miles from their hives,” John explains. “They will take what they like first, just like people would, and they will not necessarily pollinate what they don’t like. Although you can encourage bees to pollinate what you want pollinated, by strategically placing the beehives and moving them appropriately, you definitely can’t make them do what they don’t want to do.”
What a bee collects from a particular plant will ultimately determine the flavor of the honey harvested, which is how varietal honey is created. If the bee prefers, for example, locus blossoms, that will give the honey some locus flavor.
To help protect bees, associations such as the Sandusky River Valley Beekeeping Association will have a swarm list available. So, when bee hives are in people’s yards or on their houses, experienced beekeepers volunteer to pick them up and add them to hives so they can pollinate. These associations also work with exterminators so that, when a homeowner asks for extermination services, they can provide them with the contact information of a local beekeeper for free, voluntary hive removal. Here is the list for the Sandusky River Valley Beekeeping Association. And, here is just a little bit of insight into how John Schick has helped the Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden. Thanks, John!