Our farm is now home to 6,000 honeybees!
The NJIN farm is on a mission to save the bees! Our 50 acres are now home to over 26 varieties of birds as well as horses, sheep, dairy cows, and 6,000 Italian Honeybees. With the help of our resident beekeepers and faculty members, Denise Galiano and Brent Deisher, the NJIN team is working to build a diverse and healthy ecosystem for our farm and neighboring farmlands by creating a habitat for these fuzzy pollinators.
In this blogpost, we are going to explore just how important bees are to our environment, why so many honeybee populations are dying, and what our team at NJIN is doing about it.
What is pollination?
Pollination is the equivalent of the reproductive cycle in humans. It is the process of transferring a plant’s pollen, which contains male sex cells, to fertilize other plants and crops. According to the USDA, 80% of crop plants around the world require pollination.
Why is it important?
Pollination is an ecological survival mechanism. Without it, crops cannot grow which limits the world’s food production and biodiversity. Pollination also assists in carbon sequestration and the carbon cycle. The more wild plants are flowering and growing, the more the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are stored and cycled back out in appropriate periods of time. Pollination is brought about by insects, birds, bats, wind, and water.
What makes honeybees special pollinators?
Bees are buzz pollinators. This gives them a special advantage when it comes to pollination. When bees land on plants and flowers that have pollen hidden deeper in the stamen, they begin vibrating their thorax muscles to loosen the pollen from its folds! There are over 20,000 different species of plants that require buzz pollination.
While insects fertilize one out of 3 bites of the food we put in our mouths, 75 different crop types rely solely on bees for pollination including coffee, squash, avocados, berries, and nuts. Bees alone are responsible for pollinating over $15 billion worth of agricultural plants in the U.S. which makes them a critical part of our food system. So, the next time you eat an almond or a banana, you can thank our winged farmers!
Why are honeybee populations dying?
In the last decade, the world has annually been losing 30% of the honeybee population. This is due to what’s known as the Three P’s — parasites, poor nutrition, and pesticides. All three of these funnel into each other, causing a cascading issue for honeybees.
The first P is a parasite known as the Varroa destructor. Its tactic with honeybees is to wedge itself under the skin, then release digestive enzymes that liquify the honeybees, allowing them to be eaten by the parasite.
This Halloween-esque tactic lends itself to bees being even more affected by the other two P’s — pesticides and poor nutrition. Turns out, our human-driven agricultural practices are wrecking the critical agricultural help we get from honeybees. The proliferation of monoculture crops in our country ends up reducing bees’ diversity of diet. Imagine eating only peanuts and you’ll get the idea — you’re not starving, but your nutrition levels are not well-rounded. The lack of diversity in plant pollen is causing bees at large to have poor nutrition.
This puts them at greater risk from the final P, pesticides. While certain pesticides can be used to protect crops and heighten food production, systemic pesticides are a real issue. With systemic pesticides, the chemicals are absorbed by the entire plant — which means they are present in the pollen. Bees collect this pollen and take it back to the hive, which over time can build up a toxic amount of chemicals in the hive.
What happens if bees become bygones?
We’ve already established that bees are an important piece to agriculture. Plenty of crops are pollinated by other natural means — but if honeybees continue to die, our planet stands to lose its biodiversity and crop diversity which will lead to higher food prices due to lack of supply.
But one of the greatest issues caused by honeybees dying is the effect on the environment. Bees are a keystone species, which means they are a critical lynchpin that holds an ecosystem together. Bee pollination provides food not just for humans, but for many other animals including skunks, birds, and beetles. Their pollinating efforts create habitats for other species and make honey and propolis which contain important antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
The NJIN Bee Project
We felt that we needed to do something to support our honeybee populations. At NJIN, our goal is to build a diverse natural ecosystem where students can learn in a hands-on way the intricate networks of nature. This bee project is a perfect way to demonstrate to our students how an ecosystem is built, impress the importance of ecological care, and practice environmental stewardship. The hives at our farm demonstrate two different ways for honey extraction. One, a traditional apiary, requires removal of the honey frames and greater invasion into the hive’s process. The other is a Flow Hive, which is a unique design where honey flows out for retrieval without needing to remove the frames. These two hives were built and decorated by NJIN students from local Cedar Hill Prep school! The hives will provide an incredible opportunity for our summer students to learn beekeeping and study sustainable ecosystem support.
Aside from educational purposes, the bees at the farm will help pollinate the plants to feed our sheep and horses. They also will produce honey for the local community.
We are so grateful for the expertise of Denise Galiano who is heading this project! When she became a hobbyist beekeeper 10 years ago, she had no idea the journey it would lead her on. Since being trained and certified through the state, Denise has participated in multiple bee rescue missions when wild bees need to be removed and brought to more suitable areas after habitat devastation. Denise and her partner manage bees at their homes and we are thrilled to have them bring their bee expertise to NJIN!
If this article has piqued your interested in honeybees, be sure to contact us to visit our apiaries and learn the basics of beekeeping!