ELMO — Honeybees, those little buzzing busy insects, are the prime link in the world’s food chain. Bees are crucial for food production, human livelihoods and biodiversity. Globally there are more honeybees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so it is the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. Other insects as well as birds and bats are also pollinators.
“Eighty percent of all agriculture is dependent on bees,” said Family and Consumer Services Agent Breton Homewood, MSU Lake County Extension Office. “They are the centerpiece of Montana agriculture.”
Bees pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the United States including fruit, fiber, nut and vegetable crops. Bee pollination adds approximately $14 billion annually to improved crop yield and quality.
Homewood passed that information on in Elmo Friday at the Tribal Health Department Center to a group of youngsters and adults. Homewood, along with Brenda Richey, Montana State University Flathead Reservation Extension Office, and THD Reason to Live After School Director Dana Hewankorn were also on hand for the educational presentation, as were about 15 inquisitive youngsters and adults.
Richey said the presentation was facilitated through the Indian Land Tenure Fund program that promotes American Indian projects related to various land uses. She said the community project was presented by the MSU Extension Offices and the THD Reason to Live.
Richey said the presentation was timely because it shines a light on the issue of food sovereignty with the backdrop of coronavirus COVID-19 revealing the vulnerability of the food supply chain.
“COVID-19 is showing us the need and importance of food sovereignty,” Richey said, adding that the Flathead Reservation community and private gardens efforts is a component of the food sovereignty effort. “This is a way of feeding our community using a science-based curriculum.”
Amy Williams, Polson School Special Services teacher, School Garden coordinator, said her students have access to garden kits to grow home gardens. “It’s a way to connect with families and helps move our curriculum into homes,” Williams said. “All of this works together to that end.”
Hewankorn said there are plans for a garden at the Elmo THD Center that will be used as an educational project for youngsters as well as interested adults to promote community and individual gardens.
Homewood, originally from Florida, has had a lifelong connection with honeybees. His grandfather was a hobby bee raiser, and his father took that hobby to the commercial level.
“There is something magical and therapeutic about bees,” Homewood said, adding that Ronan resident and U.S. Marine Veteran Chuck Lewis is using bees to target Veterans with emotional issues related to their military service. “They have a very calming effect.”
Homewood said many people raise honeybees as a hobby, and a good first step is starting with two to three hives. Beyond hobby is the commercial end and it is regulated. Due to the lack of honeybees in California and elsewhere commercial bees are very important to raising crops there.
Homewood said the honeybee hives now at the Elmo THD Center should be secreting honey by next summer but with fingers crossed maybe this fall. Their long-term stability will positively aid the area gardens and flowering plants.
That stability depends on proper care that includes honeybees health.
Bees are extremely susceptible to certain mites and gut parasites, and these parasites have been steadily increasing due to warming weather conditions. Higher temperatures and more frequent heat waves as a result of climate change, are likely to exacerbate these problems in the future, which could cause colony collapse and wipe out entire hives.
There are measures that can be taken to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinators. Whether you are a land manager, a gardener, window-box owner or business, some simple actions include:
Growing more flowers, shrubs and trees that provide nectar and pollen as food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year.
Planting herbs and vegetables – lavender, basil, mint and tomatoes provide food for bees as well as for humans.
Providing water for bees to take back to the hive.
Avoiding disturbing or destroying nesting or hibernating insects, in places like grass margins, bare soil, hedgerows, trees, dead wood or walls.
Thinking carefully about the use of pesticides, especially where pollinators are active or nesting or where plants are in flower. Many people choose to avoid chemicals and adopt methods like physically removing pests or using barriers to deter them.
Buying locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables to support beekeepers in your area.
Fresh bee’s honey also has medicinal value. It is used in treatment of eye diseases, throat infections, bronchial asthma, tuberculosis, hiccups, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, hepatitis, worm infestation, constipation, piles, eczema, healing of wounds, ulcers and used as a nutritious, easily digestible food for weak people.
Honeybees are considered to be dangerous. A sting from a honeybee will result in a painful, raised welt. In some cases, the venom from a honeybee sting can cause a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.
Project Partners: MSU Flathead Reservation Extension Office (FREO) Brenda Richey; MSU Lake County Extension Office - Breton Homewood, FCS Agent; and, Reason to Live Native - Dana Hewankorn, After School Director.