Honey is an amazing thing. It is one of the sweetest offerings that nature provides for us. The bees have this incredible ability to take the nectar from all the beautiful flowers around us and process it into this sweet syrup that will last for centuries (did I hear correctly that some honey was found in one of the pyramids?) Usually the bees are an annoyance, stinging us inadvertently.. in all sorts of places when we swat them, thinking they are a fly (since they like our salty sweat they will come and sit on our skin and go up our sleeves and wherever else they think will profit them). But at this time of year, the combs are full and the nectar they have been collecting has matured and can be harvested.
One side point. Jarrah, my eight year old, is studying about flowers and pollination and we found out that all the bees in a given colony decide every morning which species of plant they will raid the nectar from that day. This way, they will help the flowers to pollinate correctly: as they visit one flower to the next, they are of the same type and thus they do not try to bring pollen from the papaya to the lime for example. Isn’t that amazing!
Now in Cambodia over the last few years, there has begun a worrying trend. A few years ago, the middlemen brought some poison to our village for the honey hunters to use, if they would sell the honey to them. The poison is nice. They shoot this poison arrow up into the nest and the bees drop off. Dead. This is helpful because there are hardly any bees left to sting you. These nests are crazy high.. some 20-30 metres up in the tops of the trees here so you can imagine the draw this new technique posed. Not surprisingly, this practice of using poison took off and the next year, the honey hunters didn’t need the middlemen to bring them poison. They sourced it themselves.
Our very first year here we were building our house (2014) and the bees would swarm all over us during the building process. The following year, having moved into our house, there was significantly less bees bothering us. Last year, 2016, again, noticeably less. Now I cannot tell if this is because we weren’t sweating as much in the second and third years, not actually building anything (and therefore not exerting any energy). But, if anyone has been here in April, you don’t need to lift a finger to sweat buckets. And, 2016 was the hottest April (and the hottest year!) on record… we probably were sweating some last year. So, where did the bees go? Was it because of this poison they were using.
Bees are so essential to everything. Life. Food. Forests. We watched this Ted Talk the other day about disappearing bees and in some places, farmers are having to hire people to help to pollinate their crops! Imagine that! Having to pay people to walk around with little cotton buds taking the pollen from one flower and wiping it on another. But it is happening.
We need to do everything we can to keep our bees healthy. So, this year we have been working with two main honey hunting teams and sending out a staff member with each team to ensure that the correct procedures are followed. Most importantly, that they do not use poison so they need to use traditional methods of smoking. We pay a bit more for this smoked (and not poisoned honey).
Another harmful practice is to take all the babies. They like to eat the larvae. Even having poisoned the nest, they will still eat the larvae – acknowledging that it sometimes makes them feel sick. Thus, to minimise larvae taking, we have been paying a little extra for nests where they do not take the larvae, and leave a little of the honey for the use of the bees. This way they bees do not leave their nests and the larvae are there to grow up and sustain the colony for years to come. Will this all work? We hope so. We have seen that the nests have not been deserted as in previous years. We will keep tracking this and hopefully can encourage more of the local honey hunters to revert to the old practices so that there will be healthy bee populations and healthy forests into the future.