A sweet smell wafted through the air on Friday morning near the Earl Elementary cafeteria but it wasn’t the residual, syrupy smell from students eating breakfast that morning: it was honey.
Pieces of honeycomb and frames of honey were passed among third grade students as local beekeepers Brian and Linda Cook of Cook’s Bees taught the boys and girls about bees’ integral role in the ecosystem. Last year marked the Cook’s first visit to Earl Elementary where they shared their interest and knowledge of bees in their daughter Deserae Cook’s third grade class. The presentation was such a hit that this year they expanded to include all Earl third grade classes.
“We thought that this would be a very cool thing to teach the kids in an educational way and my dad is pretty fascinated with it,” said Deserae Cook. “My hope for the students is that they are curious and want to know more about the bees around us.”
Over 100 third grade students gathered to learn about the difference between worker bees, drones and queens; examined frames of honey; peered at an observation hive to find the queen bee; and learned how honey is extracted from a hive. While the presentation served as a fun, interactive reprieve from the classroom, the Cooks arrived at an apropos time as the role of bees has been on the forefront of many farmers’ minds due to the drought.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, honey bee populations have been unstable over the past several years which is cause for concern as “nearly one third of our diet, including many berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables, comes from plants pollinated by honey bees and other pollinators,” stated a report released this month. The lack of water in California has in turn placed stress on bees that need water in order to pollinate the produce and nuts that many locals grow leaving many beekeepers to turn to artificial sources to sustain their bees.
“The bees are indirectly affected by this drought. A lot of people in the industry are supplementing the bees’ diet because there is not enough moisture in the floral sources we have now,” said Hughson area beekeeper Orin Johnson.
The lack of water in the area has in turn led local farmers to allow the secondary floral sources on the floor of orchards and surrounding areas to turn to weeds thus impacting the bees’ ability to pollinate. Beekeepers then often need to split hives in half to supplement the gallon size trough within each hive with liquid sugars and corn syrups. This artificial approach must be distributed equally otherwise hives that gain more strength than others may “rob” weaker hives, or take it over.
Johnson has witnessed a decline in hives at 30 percent in a year period and noted that the quality of bees is very much related to the location of the hives as beekeepers in the High Sierras typically face fewer declines in their bee population since the area has more moisture. At this point, there is one thing that could improve bee populations and ability to successfully take part in the ecosystem for farmers and beekeepers alike.
“More water,” said Johnson.