miscellaneous musings pollination

Things we forget to remember

Fall management: How many bees is enough for successful wintering?

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is traditionally celebrated with an over-sized meal based on a stuffed turkey. Since the turkey always takes center stage, many refer to it as “turkey day.” However, to be fair, we should call it “bee day.”

Think about bees as you eat broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, turnips, avocados, eggplant, or leeks. Does your stuffing contain sunflower seeds, onion, or parsley? Will you be having cranberry sauce or blueberry muffins? Or how about pickles?—cucumbers, dill, and mustard seed are all pollinated by bees.

Do you see any carrots or celery? The seeds needed to plant these crops required pollination by bees as well. And the tomatoes were helped along by bumble bees.

Do you have a fruit bowl on the table? Does it have oranges, tangerines, plums, or persimmons? And what about those mixed nuts, including almonds, cashews, and macadamias? Do you have a cheese plate that includes a wedge of honey and crackers with caraway seeds?

And if your pumpkin pie contains pumpkin, allspice, nutmeg, vanilla, or cinnamon, you can thank bees for every one of them. And besides apples, your apple pie may contain all those goodies as well as currants and a piece of cheddar cheese on the side.

That’s right. You can’t forget the dairy stock that ate clover and alfalfa, the seeds of which were produced by bees—not just honey bees, but leafcutters, alkali bees, bumbles, and mining bees. The milk from those animals provided the butter, sour cream, yogurt, whipping cream, half and half, and all the cheeses that went with the rest of the meal. And don’t forget the coffee, some of which is bee-pollinated as well.

The table itself may be covered with a cotton tablecloth, courtesy of the bees, and topped with beeswax candles.

Unfortunately, both cotton textiles and beeswax have been largely replaced with man-made materials coaxed from oil . . . which got me to thinking. It seems that some oil is really old—made from ancient sea life that drifted to the ocean floors—but there are more recent deposits that came from the Jurassic period (180-140 million years ago) and the Cretaceous period (140-65 million years ago). Oil from these periods can be age-dated using the presence of a certain chemical that comes from angiosperms (flowering plants).

Since bees evolved along with flowering plants starting about 100-120 million years ago, it is very possible that bees are at least partially responsible for pollinating the plants which formed the more recent oil deposits, particularly those that accumulated during or after the Cretaceous period. As time progressed, more and more angiosperms became dependent on bee pollinators, which in turn allowed them to become more and more prolific, which in turn made more and more oil. And when the bees’ lives were over, their little bodies added to the deposits as well.

So if you’re driving to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving—or only to your local restaurant—just think: bees may be responsible for pushing your car along the road . . . which was also made from oil. You gotta love ’em.



  • Rusty,

    I’m willing to be corrected, as with any other topic, but – garlic? I know of no variety of garlic that produces viable flowers, or that is reproduced other than by division of bulbs. So-called “scapes,” the flowering tops, mature into small “bulbils” that can be planted and grow into full-size bulbs, but I am quite sure they do not require pollination to do so.

    I see bees on chives, onions, shallots, leeks, scallions and garlic chives (they love those) but have never seen bees anywhere near garlic. And I do grow a right smart of it. But not from seed!

    But, hey – tell me something I didn’t know! Thanks!


  • Rusty – well d***! Thank you. Something to puzzle my other garlic growing colleagues with.

    All the same, I doubt that an operation such as described is relying on bee pollination. Camel’s hair brushes are more likely.

    And, I’m wary hearing of a such intense effort and investment to “improve” varieties… sounds like “market control” to me. One friend I’ve mentioned it to so far says, “Yeah…what’s to ‘improve’ about garlic?”

    I know, I know… productivity, disease resistance, uniform bulb size, harvesting convenience… Uh-oh! Do the words “Red Delicious Apple’ strike a familiar note?

    Anyway thanks for telling me something I didn’t know! And a very Happy and Bee-utiful Thanksgiving!

  • Well written as always, Rusty. I wish everyone a pleasant and restful Holiday season. I would also like to remind everyone if they did not have a chance to check their bees before the end of October, it would be a great time to make some fondant during the time taken to make Thanksgiving dinner. It is good insurance to make sure the bees in our hives dont starve as a result of a slight oversight on our part as beekeepers. Most bees losses are tied to starvation and that is a hard lesson and easily avoided!!!

    Bill Castro

  • I always thank the pollinators this day. I have been thinking of writing a similar article for quite sometime; but I don’t need to do so now. You did a great job.

    I would just add the little midges that pollinate the cocoa trees. I want to have, at least, one chocolate mint after dinner. Did you mention apple cider, coffee and tea? I bet that there are a couple of other things to include in this list if we keep thinking about it.

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