September is ‘Bee Aware Month’, dedicated to celebrating the mighty bee.
Forage & Ferment has a particular love of bumblebees. Not only are they essential for abundant crops but they are constantly buzzing around us as we forage in our garden farmacy for wild edibles and healing herbs for our delicious wild kraut and kimchi. Simply put they are part of our team!
Forage & Ferment proudly supports the New Zealand Bumblebee Conservation Trust (NZBCT). We are that passionate about this furry friend, you will see a bumblebee on the back of every jar. These little workhorses play an essential role in pollinating the food that nourishes us.
We salute the humble bumblebee and while we're at it we would like to share some amazing facts about these furry little characters that we so often take for granted.
Some things you may not know about bumblebees:
It is estimated that around a third of the human food supply depends on pollination by insects, birds and bats and most of this is accomplished by bees. That's one in every three mouthfuls! Pollinators are crucial in promoting the beautiful flora throughout our environment and the farmers of meat and dairy products rely on them to provide the sustainable pollination of crops for animals such as clover and alfalfa. Bumblebees are super pollinators and a single bumblebee can do 50 times the work of a honeybee and they carry a bigger payload of pollen.
There are over 255 species of bumblebees, New Zealand has only four - all were introduced from the UK as early as 1885, initially to assist with the pollination of clover. The rarest species of NZ bumblebee the Bombus subterraneus is thought to be the one of rarest in the world, becoming extinct in England many years ago after living there since the last Ice Age.
Bumblebees have smelly feet and will leave a smelly footprint to show they have been to a flower. Other bees will be able to tell if the flower has already been looted and move on to the next. Various flowers replenish pollen and nectar at different speeds, some in hours and some in days. Once the flower is full again the smelly footprint wears off giving the go ahead for whoever is ready to loot next.
Bumblebees are also known as a bit of a cheat in the world of pollination and have been referred to as robbers. Sometimes they rob the flower of its nectar without pollinating it in return. Some species locate where they think the nectar is from the outside of the flower, then bite and poke a hole to mop it all up. This is certainly appreciated by other varieties of bees and insects who may also use the hole depending on the type of flower. Using a robbing hole made by another bee is referred to as 'secondary robbing' and is very common.
Whilst it is often thought that humming birds have the highest metabolic rate of all animals, the metabolic rate of bumblebees is 75% higher than a humming bird's. They need this remarkable zest to carry their large bumbling bodies through the air. They will also work from daylight to dark in rainy weather and continue working in temperatures just above freezing.
Bumblebees carry up to 90% of their body weight in food. The level of activity and energy required to fly is so great they are only ever 40 minutes away from starvation. They can reach ground speeds up to 54 km per hour and are great navigators, remembering specific landmarks to help navigate back to the nest (yes nest not hive). Bumblebees are social insects and can live in nests of up to 400 bees. Each nest has a queen and will last for only one year. Bumble bees rarely nest in the same location two years running. Unlike bees who forage long range, bumblebees like to stay local. Most workers forage within 5kms of the nest. They are a flying advertisement for 'live local, eat local'.
Bumblebees will also pollinate flowers honeybees can’t, like tomato flowers. Honeybees aren’t boisterous enough to dislodge pollen from tomato flowers whereas bumblebees will vigorously buzz the flower and bee rewarded with showers of pollen falling on their bodies. This technique is known as ‘buzz pollination’. In a glasshouse one bumble bee can pollinate up to 450 flowers per hour.
Bumblebee decline around the world is a worry for us all, and this decline has been caused by multiple factors, including a reduction in wildflowers and flowering trees from the landscape. Like many other animals and insects this habitat loss and the increasing use of pesticides has had a dramatic effect on the bumblebee.
Next time you are pottering in the garden spare a thought for the hardworking, black-and-yellow striped bumblebee which is probably buzzing around somewhere pollinating your strawberries, rocket, beans, kiwi fruit, avocados… Without this master forager, your crops wouldn’t be anywhere near as abundant.
If you want to help nurture and promote our very special pollinator friends, then plant bee-friendly gardens and wild flowers which will attract them to forage the flowers for nectar and pollen. You can also support the New Zealand Bumblebee Conservation Trust (NZBCT).
About Forage & Ferment
Forage & Ferment handcrafts unique kraut and kimchi using traditional wild fermentation practices. To create our delicious vegetable ferments, we source fresh ingredients from responsible local growers and forage our garden farmacy for nature’s finest wild edibles. www.forageandferment.co.nz