Sweet, but don’t mess with her

2014-05-22 00:00

THE season of mists in KwaZulu-Natal is over but ’tis indeed the season of mellow sweetfulness. The later flowers from the gum tress and the warm autumn days are rapidly filling the o’er-brimm’d clammy cells of our honeybee, Apis mellifera scutellata. With thanks to Keats for this abomination of his great poem To Autumn !

Our local bee is indigenous and plays a vital part in the environment and the agricultural economy. Hives placed in a crop of sunflowers increase the yield by 30%; that’s the farmer’s profit margin. Without honeybees, farmers would not plant sunflowers, and that would mean no sunflower oil, as it simply wouldn’t be profitable. And so we could go on about the pumpkin yield, the avocados, the pears in the Western Cape and many other plants that are absolutely dependent on pollination by honeybees.

So, too, the divine honey provided by our indigenous bees. It provides a healthy sweetener, provided it hasn’t been heated and processed. Surprisingly, honey does not have a high glycemic index; it’s not turned rapidly to blood glucose.

But with her blessings, comes a danger too. She’s an aggressive little creature, and very protective of her home. We recently read of a bulldozer that disturbed a hive and a passing woman was stung by more than 500 bees. She’s lucky to be alive. A strong colony at this time of the year can contain 50 000 bees and that makes for a very treacherous adversary. Treat bees with respect as simply because of their numbers, they can be very dangerous when disturbed.

The eucalypts are in full flower now, and all the queens are rapidly laying more eggs and breeding more bees. That means more honey and more danger too, so don’t mess with bees. Mowing should be done only in the late afternoon if you have a colony, wild or hived, in your garden.

This rapid expansion means there is limited space in confined hives and our African honeybee has the propensity to swarm. New queens are bred and half the hive leaves looking for new pastures, which might be in your roof or under your bath. If you see that a colony has moved in where it doesn’t belong, contact a local beekeeper. Don’t mess with them yourself as they are dangerous. And do it sooner rather than later. The problem will only get worse.

Appreciate our local bees. They are a very important cog in the environmental and agricultural wheel. Without them, two thirds of our food wouldn’t exist. And we would have no alternative but to eat rubbish imported honey. Our local honey is as good as you can get anywhere in the world and much of the imported honey in South Africa is of a poor quality.

• For more about our honeybees, visit the Royal Show stand where local beekeepers will answer your questions.

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