All About BeesBy Alle Crampton
Honey bees are among the most populous and efficient pollinator species in the world. They pollinate more than 100 significant crops and numerous wild and native plants. This includes many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat, as well as nuts, herbs, spices, oilseed crops, forage for dairy and beef cattle, and medicinal and ornamental plants. Even plants that are not grown for their fruits require pollination to grow and reproduce. Honey bees add an estimated $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year in increased crop yields. According to farmflavor.com, “When managed, honey bee colonies, in conjunction with healthy populations of native bees, have been shown to produce higher quality and higher quantities of crops. Honey bee pollination contributes approximately $20 billion of added value to crops in the United States annually, and an estimated $500 million in the state of Tennessee alone.”
In Tennessee, the honey bee is the official state agricultural insect. Healthy and productive colonies of bees not only produce more honey, they also provide better pollination for our nation’s food supply.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee State Parks (TSP) recognized the importance of these prolific pollinators and launched the TSP Honey Project across select state parks in 2017-2018. The goals of this project are to:
- Promote pollinator and environmental health in our parks
- Provide an experimental learning opportunity for visitors
- Produce sweet treats for our guests
Since 2018, the Honey Project has installed hives at 39 TSPs. Parks bottle and sell the honey in their gift shops based on their hive's production. Between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, 13 parks extracted a total of 94 gallons of honey. TSP restaurants also use the honey as a sustainable ingredient.
Since pollinator health is critical to Tennessee's agricultural, environmental, and ecological health, these tiny insects open the door to discuss a myriad of environmental issues. In addition to educating park visitors, TSPs implemented a training program into the TSP Honey Project to support Rangers as they install and manage hives at their parks!
TDEC has worked alongside several partners to get this project off the ground. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s State Apiarist, Mike Studer, advised on several topics including technical assistance, beehive health, and community contacts. TRICOR, an agency that provides occupational and life skills training for Tennessee's incarcerated population through job training, program opportunities, and transitional services designed to support successful reintegration into society, built the hives for the first 6 parks. Recently, Tennessee State Parks applied and was awarded an additional grant from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The grant totals $23,462.00 and will be used to add move hives across the state, support pollinator interpretive education, and assist with the bottling of honey.
There are also native, solitary bees. They do not live in large colonies, do not produce honey, and do not sting. They are important pollinators of wildflowers across North America. These solitary critters tend to forage in the area near their nests (usually within 500 yards). This means that they can serve as great pollinators for small gardens and orchards. Many solitary bees nest in the ground, but bees in the family Megachilidae seek cavities in dead wood to build their solitary nests.
Wondering how you can help pollinators in Tennessee? Here are a few short tips.
1. Use pollinator-friendly plants in your landscape. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, blueberry, cherry, plum, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar, or both, early in spring when food is scarce. Also consider using native wildflowers! Even in an urban setting, you can still have a small flower area.
2. Provide clean water for pollinators with a shallow dish, bowl, or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches.
3. Support local honey makers and pollinator initiatives by buying honey from local sources
This Page Last Updated: July 2, 2021 at 10:54 AM