When someone thinks of honey bees, the first thing that pops into their head is usually honey. And, for good reason. Honey bees make this amazing ingredient, and fortunately, they make so much that we get to enjoy what they can’t eat.
However, honey bees impact our food system in ways beyond making honey. Honey bees are responsible for about one-third of the foods we eat and more than 90 different crops, including fruits, nuts, vegetables and crop seeds.
Think about that for a second. On average, honey bees are responsible for every third bite of food you take. Without honey bees, we don’t have avocados, apples, pumpkins or carrots. Who wants to live in a world without guacamole, apple cider, pumpkin pie and roasted carrots?
These amazing little insects contribute so much to our food system, and they don’t even know it! As bees forage for nectar, visiting thousands of flowers, they are unknowingly pollinating flowers that produce many of the delicious foods that we eat on a daily basis.
Honey bees are on trend with their diet choices, following a strict plant-based diet. They get their food from the nectar and pollen found in flowering plants and trees. The nectar of a flower provides their carbohydrates, and the pollen provides their protein source. The process of foraging for these food sources triggers pollination. Here’s how.
When a bee visits a flower, it brushes up against the anther of the flower, which is located on top of the stamen. This anther produces pollen, which gathers on the bee’s hind legs in specialized structures called pollen baskets.
Fortunately, the honey bee craves the sweet nectar of the flower as well as the pollen, and as it travels to extract the nectar, the pollen from the bee’s hind legs is transferred to the stigma of the flower, and voila, the magic of pollination happens.
Because honey bees are such prolific foragers and visit thousands of flowers daily, their pollination efforts are second to none and account for about 85% of all pollination. Other insects, birds and the wind make up the other 15% of pollination, but the efficiency of honey bees makes them indispensable to agriculture as we know it in the United States and around the world.
With a population of more than three billion people, our earth has a lot of mouths to feed. Honey bees play a key role in this process, but they can’t do the work alone. Beekeepers and farmers support honey bees’ efforts through a collaborative and mutually beneficial process.
When a farmer plants a field of crops that require honey bee pollination, they’ll enlist the services of a beekeeper to place honey bee hives on the farm’s property. When the crop’s flowers bloom, the honey bees are ready to go to work, gathering the nectar and pollen that will feed their 60,000-strong family back in the hive.
The farmer benefits from honey bee pollination with a bountiful harvest, and the beekeeper is rewarded with a healthy, well-fed hive and excess honey that goes to restaurants, food manufacturers and grocery store shelves.
It’s a win, win, win for honey bees, beekeepers and farmers!
Honey bee pollination is happening across the United States and around the world all year long, as different crops in different regions and different climates are continually blooming. We captured the magic of honey bee pollination recently in Oregon, where we filmed this video detailing the important partnership between beekeepers and farmers.
If you want to see the impact of pollination on our food supply for yourself, pick out your favorite recipe or product in your pantry. Look at the ingredients and count how many are produced through honey bee pollination. Here’s just a partial list of ingredients and foods that honey bees pollinate: