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The Importance of Bees
 
Whilst one may wax lyrically about the birds and the bees, there are many things that quite simply do not work without the help of the humble, often overlooked honey bee.  If you are observant you’ll know nearly all melon crops and many fruit and nut trees only bear fruit with their help.  In fact it is estimated that a third of all we eat needs the pollination services of bees.
A honey bee
 
These trojans of the natural world have been estimated to each pollinate up to 10 plants a day so a commercial hive of 50,000 bees can pollinate half a million plants each and every day. Such awesome figures  led UK economists to estimate the economic value of this bee based buzz to be equivalent to $392 million Australian dollars in 2007.
 
In our home veggie gardens bees are pollinators for apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins and squash. Without them your plants will fail to bear fruit and you may be forced to pollinate by hand what bees will do naturally and for free.
Hand pollinating a zucchini flower
 
How pollination works…. 
 
Pollination happens when pollen from one flower is transferred to a second flower of the same species.  This action allows the process of fruit and seed production to begin in the plant.  Watch a honey bee visiting flowers with their body covered in pollen and you'll see first hand how pollen is transferred.  Good pollination results in large healthy fruit, whilst poor pollination may result in fruit dropping or failing to develop.
 
How we as home gardeners can help…
 
Bees need habitat that is full of pollen carrying flowers. 
It's best to garden naturally but if you must use any chemicals in your garden read the label and avoid anything with neonictinoids in it.  This group of chemicals, often used to control plant pests, comprimises the health of bee colonies.
 
Here's some advice on how you can provide a constant stream of clean, quality pollen and nectar to feed your silent little helpers,
 
Design diversity into your garden: Have plantings that flower all through the year and of differing species so the bees have as varied a diet as possible.
 
Include flowers within a veggie garden design: Plant not just vegetables that need pollination but also some flowers that feed the bees as well.
 
Create Habitat: Allow some part of your garden to be a little less organised than perhaps you’d like so there are sources of dried grass, wood and even mud. Ensure there is a water supply easily and safely accessible to bees as they use this water to cool their hive in hot weather.
 
Colours preferred by bees are blue, yellow and purple.  Plant flowers or food plants with these colours to encourage more bees to stop by.
 
Avoid using all chemicals in the garden: The widely reported colony collapse disorder that has blighted bee colonies in much of the western world, is attributed to poor bee health.  Chemicals, mites and crop monocultures are suggested as possible causes. There's no need to use chemicals in your garden so please don’t. The widely used glyphosate is not necessary and it's harmful to the micro and macro fauna of your garden ecosystem.
 
Establish a hive:  Bees need old wooden logs, dead trees or hives within which to establish their home. Create a bee friendly environment as it supports not just your garden but that of the whole neighbourhood. 
A natural bee hive
 
Vital Veggies favourite fermented honey drink
 
Honey is one of the oldest and easiest foods to ferment into alcohol.
Simply take 1 part honey, stir in 4 parts spring water or rain water, place it into a clean glass container, cover with a stocking or a piece of muslin cloth and wait for a few days.
After three to four days the lactobacilli in the air will have begun the process of breaking down the sugar in the honey-water mix. It will bubble and ferment and a white coating will form on the top. It will become naturally carbonated and mildly alcoholic.  The further you allow this fermentation to proceed the less sweet the drink becomes, and in time you can create a strong honey vinegar if you so choose.
 
Bottle and refrigerate when the sweetness is to your taste (between 5 - 10 days depending on the weather).
 
Enjoy this most refreshing drink cold on a hot day.
The flavour of the drink will vary depending on the flower source of the honey.
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