Our buzzing Golden Macadamias orchards:
Our fuzzy black and yellow friends – are one of the world’s most important pollinators. Specifically, within the South African agricultural sector, we have over 50 bee dependant crops (1).
Why is our food security dependant on bees?
Bees spend most of their lives collecting pollen as a food source for their colonies. To put it simply bees are fuzzy little insects covered with tiny little hairs. When they land on a flower the hair on their bodies attracts the pollen and they carry it in the specialised pockets on their legs back to their hives. Therefore, every time a bee lands on a flower some of the pollen collected on their fuzzy bodies falls of onto a new flower that they land on, this is called cross pollination. Within recent years bee colonies have been declining worldwide due to urbanization as well as pesticides used within the agricultural sector. The declining bee colonies are concerning towards many farmers who are reliant on the bees for cross pollination of their crops such as macadamia farmers.
The African Honeybee in the Lowveld (The home of Golden Macadamias)
We contacted Inge Austin the Chairperson of the Lowveld Beekeepers Branch and sitting board member on the South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) to better understand the bees in our immediate surroundings. Inge explained that within the Lowveld we mainly have the African Honeybee Apis Mellifera Scuttelata. However, the Cape honeybee Apis mellifera capensis also occurs but as a parasitic specie causing destruction to the African honeybee’s colonies. Due to the proximity of the Lowveld to Mozambique, a third honeybee specie the Lowland honeybee Apis mellifera litorea also occurs in the Lowveld but not in large numbers. Lucky the African honeybee and the Lowland honeybee does not pose a significant problem occurring together.
The appearance of the African honeybee:
The African honeybee can be recognised as a small fuzzy insect with yellow stripes on their abdomen. The African honeybee worker has a body length of 19mm which is slightly smaller compared to other honeybees. They have two sets of wings used to fly around and find pollen. The African honeybee also communicates with each other through dancing. The African honeybee can be found across South Africa apart from the Western Cape and some parts of the Eastern Cape.
African honeybee food sources:
African honeybees consume two types of food, namely nectar and pollen, supplied naturally by plants. Nectar consists out of sugar and water which is used by the African honeybee as an energy source. Nectar can be described as the African honeybee’s carbohydrate. Whereas pollen is their protein source as well as their source of vitamins and minerals. Pollen is important for brood production and growth of you African honeybees. Although bees can consumer sugar water, it is not s long-term solution or healthy for them.
The relationship between the African honeybee and macadamia orchards:
Our macadamia orchards are honeybee dependant for cross pollination to optimise fruit set and kernel size. Our ever-growing Golden Macadamia orchards therefore increase the need for managed bee populations to ensure pollination occurs. However, the macadamia orchards also provide valuable forage for the African honeybee. Our macadamia orchards have a fair bee value with the nectar scoring between 1-3 on a scale of 4 and the pollen scoring between 0-2. It also assists the African honeybee in produce a very pleasant slow granulating honey, although not in copious amounts.
Therefore, a symbiosis relationship has been cultivated between our Golden Macadamia growers and the African Honeybee. The Golden Macadamia growers ensure enough cover crop is planted between the macadamia trees to ensure the African Honeybee has year-round supply of nectar and pollen to ensure a balanced diet. The Golden Macadamia growers also provide stands for the African Honeybees to ensure protection from ants, honey badgers, and human interference. In return the African honeybees pollinate their Golden Macadamia orchards every year resulting in the globally recognised kernel quality of our Golden Macadamias brand.
Fun Facts about honeybees:
• It is estimated that honey bees pollinate over 50 crops in South Africa, about 1/3 of all food consumed are pollinated by bees.
• In South Africa, the value added to crops in paid pollination, is over R4 Billion per year of which R2 Billion is from fruit crops. Beekeeping is therefore much more about food security through pollination rather than honey production.
• Honey is the bees main source of energy food and the beekeeper can only harvest the excess produced. It takes about 4 million flowers to produce 1 kg of honey.
• A bee only makes about 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey in it’s lifetime