Kentucky's Honey Industry
In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, there are approximately 12,669 colonies of bees, kept by approximately 2,500 beekeepers statewide. For the beekeepers, Kentucky has 50 different local beekeeper associations.
In 2017, the cash receipts for honey sales totaled $775,000, making it one of the top agricultural products in the state.
According to the 2012 census, 344,306 pounds of honey were collected in Kentucky. Eating local honey is not only good for your community, but some say it is good for you as well!
Source: National Agriculture Statistics Service and Economic Research Commission
What is a Pollinator?
Pollinators have a very important role in the plant kingdom. A Pollinator is an animal that moves flower pollen from one part of a plant to another to fertilize the plant. Without pollinators, plants could not make fruit or reproduce! Flying insects, birds, and other animals help produce more than 150 food crops by moving pollen from flower to flower. The Kentucky Pollinator Plan was created to protect these important agriculture partners.
How Does Pollination Work?
Have you ever wondered why most flowers are colorful and smell so sweet? These fragrant flowers act as “guides” to pollinators. To make sure pollinators do their important job, flowers offer a sweet reward: nectar, a sugary “bait’ the pollinators consume for energy. While the wind can move pollen for reproduction, animals do a much better job. Pollinators are essential to the survival of more than 90 percent of the 250,000 flowering plant species on the planet.
What Does Pollen Do?
Each plant produces unique pollen grains or “life-giving dust”. Pollen grains are groups of plant cells made by the male organ of the flower (stamen). The pollen contains part of the genetic code (DNA) that plants need in order to form seeds within the female organ of a flower (pistil). When the pollen touches the pistil, plant reproduction and seed development begins. A pollinated flower will also grow a fruit to protect and hold the seeds. The fruit is a food source for humans and other animals. Bees help flowers by pollinating them, and flowers help bees by providing food - pollen is an important protein source for bees. A single colony of bees can eat between 37-74 pounds of pollen a year. That’s a lot of flower power!
Bees & Honey: A Sweet Reward
While bees hunt for nectar, they store it in a special stomach called the coney crop. The nectar mixes with bee enzymes that will help turn it into honey. To make a single pound of honey, bees must visit 2 million flowers! Honey bees take the nectar back to their hive, which they share with as many as 60,000 other bees. They store the nectar in the cells of the honeycomb - made by beeswax or provided by beekeepers. To make honey, bees use enzymes to convert the nectar into simple sugars. Then they evaporate extra water from the nectar by fanning their wings over the honeycomb cells. To protect their fuel source, the bees cap the honey cells with wax. When a cell is capped with wax, the beekeeper knows that the honey is ready to collect. In a good year, an older hive will make more than 180 pounds of honey each year. The hive will need about 120 pounds for themselves, and the beekeeper can collect any extra honey. A hive in Kentucky typically provides 50 pounds of collectible honey.
Humans sometimes use honey instead of granulated sugar. It tastes great and has a long shelf life. While honey gives beekeepers a sweet profit, it is bees role in flower pollination that adds a whopping $19 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture. Many food crops, such as almonds, apples, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash, are dependent on bees.
How Can You Help Bees?
You may have seen news that bees are experiencing unexplained health problems. Scientists are working hard to find ways to keep bees healthy. One way you can help is to plant and protect bee-friendly flowers. More flowers equal more food for bees and nectar-loving pollinators. Another “bee best practice” is to spray insecticides on yards and field crops only when bees are less active (after 4 p.m.).
Bees and other pollinators are an incredibly important part of our ecosystem. They spread pollen which helps plants make fruit and reproduce. Bees also make honey. Next time you see a pollinator you can appreciate the hard work they do to keep fruits and flowers healthy!