It’s unclear what drew a horde of honey bees to the Lawrence county residence of Craig Johnston, but it must have been profound.
Bees can establish a hive just about anywhere. As Winnie the Pooh attests, hollow trees are a traditional favorite. The hives favored by professional beekeepers are pretty much just a box with a few, well thought out features to improve the health and happiness of the bees, thereby enhancing the production of honey.
During a remodeling project, Johnston found over 80,000 bees under his floor. The big question ― other than who counted them ― is how the bees got there. Johnston has a good idea, though.
“(There’s an) external gap where the wood siding and the brick met,” he said to WAFF’s Jenna Rae. “They were getting in through the edge and getting into the floor area.”
What happened next is critical, transforming this story from one of home insect invasion to genuine good news: Instead of calling an exterminator, Johnston called a local beekeeper.
A Drop in the Honey Bucket
Honey bees are an often overlooked but absolutely essential component in our agricultural economy.
“These social and hardworking insects,” touts an FDA website, “produce six, hive products — honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis and venom — all collected and used by people for various nutritional and medicinal purposes.”
In 2016, bees gave us roughly 163 million pounds of honey, at a value of $339 million. Beeswax remains a staple in candle-making and as an ingredient in leather and wood polishes. The pharmaceutical industry uses beeswax as a time-release mechanism, and it is also commonly used in cosmetics.
But all of that is just a drop in the honey bucket.
“… (T)he greatest importance of honey bees to agriculture isn’t a product of the hive at all,” the FDA website reports. “It’s their work as crop pollinators. This agricultural benefit of honey bees is estimated to be between 10 and 20 times the total value of honey and beeswax. In fact, bee pollination accounts for about $15 billion in added crop value. Honey bees are like flying dollar bills buzzing over U.S. crops.”
The website goes on to explain how more than 90 crops in commercial production rely on bee pollination. In fact, about one-third of the food we Americans eat comes from crops pollinated by our friendly honey bees.
But that doesn’t mean you want them living in your house.
Critical to All Life
Johnston’s apian invaders had built a hive big enough to be scary. Really scary. The beekeepers who moved it said they’d never seen so many bees in one place.
“It extended probably two feet wide,” Johnston said, “and about five to six feet deep into the house.”
Still, pesky though the bees were, he resisted the urge to kill them.
“Finding a hive this big is critical to our ecosystem,” he recognized, “and being able to transport it without it being exterminated or destroyed is critical to all of life. You find out you had a part to continuing life for many things including ourselves.”
Thanks, Craig Johnston! Not just from the bees and beekeepers, but from farmers, grocers, and, indeed, all of us who eat food.