Story by Marianne Salza
The Revere CARES Coalition is expanding their Urban Agricultural Committee — an initiative that encourages composting, backyard and rooftop gardens, and food markets – and is in the process of recruiting community members to join the board. During the Revere CARES meeting on March 27 at the MGH Revere Health Center, beekeeper Damian DeMarco presented Bees 101 to discuss the importance of honeybees.
“Bees have been with us forever. They found a bee in amber, carbon dated 100 million years old. Bees were flying around with the dinosaurs,” said DeMarco, Head Bee Keeper of Cow Hill Apiary. “As long as man has been around, we have had relationships with bees. There is a cave painting of a prehistoric person harvesting bees.”
DeMarco has been a beekeeper for three years, and is a member of the Boston Area Beekeepers Association, and Essex County Beekeepers’ Association. He is a lifelong Revere resident and Computer Technology Teacher at SeaCoast High School.
“Become a beekeeper,” suggested DeMarco. “It’s an intriguing hobby.”
In North America there are more than 4,000 native species of bees, 200 of which live in Massachusetts. DeMarco discussed the western honeybee, brought to this country in the early 1600s by European settlers, and selected for its gentle nature and ability to produce an abundance of honey.
“Honeybees are the only insects that produce food eaten by man,” explained DeMarco. “They’re one of the major pollinators. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 35 percent of the crops that we eat, and about 75-90 percent of the plants we don’t eat.”
A virgin queen will leave the hive once or twice, and fly five mile to drone congregations, where she will mate with up to 24 male bees to maintain the genetic diversity of the hive.
A bee will fly to 5,200 flowers, return to its hive and transfer the nectar to another bee that takes that nectar to a cell in the honeycomb. Honeybees are social creatures, with 60,000 insects in a colony, which is 90 percent female.
Unfortunately, in the past five years, bee farms and backyard hobbyists have been losing 50 percent of their honeybees; and two weeks ago, DeMarco lost one of his two hives. Harmful chemicals used for pest control and loss of habitat have decreased the bee population.
“Scientists don’t know what the issue is, but they classify this as colony collapse disorder,” DeMarco said.
The planting of monocrops, single crops that are not rotated with others, have made large areas of land unusable for bees. Bees survive on nectar and pollen from flowers; but when pesticides are used, foraging bees may die before returning to their hives, or bring contaminated nectar to the hive, making all the bees sick.
DeMarco also pointed out that the varroa mite, a parasite that cases viruses that can deform bees’ wings, can give bees diseases by laying eggs in bee larvae, and attaching themselves onto the young bees when they hatch. “The first thing we can do to save honeybees is plant wildflowers,” said DeMarco, who mentioned that a honeybee’s favorite habitat is marshland. “We have to support bee-friendly legislation. You can opt out of having Massachusetts spray your property. Support a bee hive, and educate citizens on the benefits of bees on ecology.”