Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, we are embracing the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honeybees do more than just pollinate flowers and make honey. They also pollinate a third of the world’s crops and are critical to our agricultural system. Their populations, however, are in severe decline.
Here is where Pollen Nation, the newest group of beekeepers, steps in. A diverse group of Zoo staff and volunteers, Pollen Nation was established in 2014 to promote pollinator awareness by re-wilding habitats and inspiring action while connecting the community to nature. “We’re not just beekeepers, we’re a group of people passionate about all aspects of a healthy ecological system…down to every little detail, including the honeybee,” says Melanie Evans, one of Pollen Nation’s founders.
Pollen Nation has established 18 honeybee hives on the “EcOhio Farm,” a portion of the Zoo’s 600-acre off-site property in Warren County. The hives will boost the declining honeybee population and also raise awareness about conservation action that can be taken in one’s own backyard. Though it may take a few years for the colonies to establish themselves before we can extract honey, eventually we expect to sell honey produced from the hives in the Zoo Shop.
How can you get involved and help out honeybees?
- Come see the new beehive on Zoo grounds across from the World of the Insect building. Learn more about bees during Honeybee Chats at 2:00pm on Fridays through Tuesdays. Chats will wrap up at the end of October and start up again in spring.
- Sign up for an Education Program series on honeybees that will be led by Pollen Nation members in January. Details to be posted soon at http://cincinnatizoo.org/education/.
- Help us learn more about bees in the greater Cincinnati area. Simply snap pictures of bees that you see and submit to beespotter.org/cincinnatizoo with the date and location. An expert scientist from the Entomology Department at the University of Illinois will identify the species and add it to the database, helping us to further understand bee species demographics in our area. We are currently developing an app that should launch in spring.
- Follow Pollen Nation on Facebook to learn about honeybees and keep up with our activities.
- Plant native and pollinator-friendly vegetation such as milkweed, sunflowers, bee balm, and other wildflowers for bees to pollinate in your own backyard.
- Limit pesticide use in your gardens and don’t use during mid-day hours when honeybees are most active. Consider choosing natural pesticides or home-made remedies.
What will the bees do over the winter? In about two weeks, we will winterize the hives where the bees will hunker down. We plan to stack hay bales near the hives as wind barriers and ensure there is enough honey for the bees to feed on to survive the winter. The bees themselves will make their own sort of caulking, called propolis, to seal off the hive’s seams and keep the cold air out. After that, we’ll leave them alone until it’s time to re-emerge in April and get back to work.
How can you spot a honeybee?