Let's hear it for the honey bee!

Jerry Apps
A honey bee explores a zucchini blossom.

Honey bees. Makers of honey. Wonderful, sweet honey. Mostly ignored by most of the population. Despised by some—they sting you, don’t they?

But honey bees, along with all the other bees that flit around, are essential, not only for the honey they make but for their role as pollinators. Some 75 percent of North American plant species require an insect, mostly bees, for pollination. These include fruit crops such as apples and cranberries, as well as many vegetable crops.

For several years, my farm garden saw diminished yields of cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Two years ago, I harvested but a handful of squash and only one pumpkin. Then last year, everything changed. My vegetable yields were back to normal.

Why I wondered? My neighbor had taken up beekeeping, and his honey bees were regularly visiting my vegetable garden.

Travel by an orchard and you’ll likely spot what looks like boxes piled on end. These are beehives used for pollination. Same if you ride by a cranberry bog, where honey bees are rented from a beekeeper to pollinate their crop.

Honey bees are not native to North America. They came from Europe with the early settlers in the 1600s. Unfortunately, honey bees as well as many of the native bees, all essential pollinators, are in decline. The use of insecticides to kill crop pests also kills bees. Additionally, honey bees often face viruses and other diseases that can raise havoc with a beehive.

For me, I am more than pleased that my neighbor has beehives. Having them nearby has surely helped my garden return to normal production. And, on top of it all, my neighbor came over the other day with a jar of honey.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Let’s applaud the honey bee for all the hard work it does.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to