Blessed Bees

It is said that bees are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat. Nature’s preeminent pollinators, these four-winged creatures eat only pollen and nectar, so when they are not tending to nests and larvae, they are flying from flower to flower in search of food. Individual bees usually focus on one kind of flower at a time, increasing the likelihood that pollen from one flower will be transferred to another flower of the same species. Many plants require this kind of pollen distribution, known as cross-pollination, to produce viable seeds, and without bees, we would see a drastic reduction – as much as 90% – in food crops, including most fruits and nuts as well as beans, beets, cabbage, garlic, sunflowers and more.

European honey bees are the best known and most widely managed pollinators; however, there are thousands of undomesticated bee species. Wild bees are mostly solitary. They create tiny nests in dead wood, or, most commonly, in tunnels in the ground. Because they are wild, they have minimal contact with humans. In the early 2000s, beekeepers began noticing that worker honeybees would suddenly flee the hive and end up dead elsewhere, leading to rapid colony loss. This phenomenon, called colony-collapse disorder, became so widespread that mortality rates in commercial beekeeping operations more than doubled, generating widespread public concern and discussion. Only in the past few years has the public realized that wild bee populations are also declining.


Bee populations are struggling for three reasons: the use of inorganic pesticides and the loss of nesting habitat and food sources. Bees poisoned by pesticides live shorter lives and suffer from impaired memory, learning and social communication, reducing their ability to forage and return to their hives. Urban development is replacing woodlands and fields with concrete, destroying nesting habitat and food sources. Bees must have a steady food supply and therefore require a diversity of plants that flower at different times of the year. Monoculture agriculture reduces this diversity. Together, pesticides, habitat destruction and food shortages compromise bees’ health, increasing susceptibility to pathogens, and over the past decade, there has been an increase in bee illnesses.

Fortunately, there are many ways to protect bees. We can garden organically and buy organic produce, encouraging farmers to adopt environmentally-responsible cultivation practices. We can encourage families, friends, neighbors and city government to reduce pesticide use. We can also create bee gardens by planting a diverse array of flowering plants, such as Echinacea, goldenrod, borage and marigold. Remember to choose plants that bloom at different times, and leave small patches of bare ground and dead branches where bees can establish their nests.

Are you considering home beekeeping? Do you want to find out if you are ready to make the commitment? Fall is the time to order honey bees for Spring pick up, so it's time to start preparing now. Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey will lead a very informative class on the science of bees and beekeeping basics in the SFC Teaching Garden on October 19, 2016 from 6:00-8:00pm. You will also learn about the importance of native bees and how to attract them to your garden. Click here to sign up for Intro to Beekeeping.

We would be remiss if we did not share a recipe that honors the honey we get from bees. You can purchase local honey as well as whole chickens and tomatoes at SFC Farmers’ Markets. If you don’t have rosemary on hand, check your neighbor’s yard as the herb grows ubiquitously around Austin.

Honey Rosemary Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes


  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 whole chicken, skin removed and cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 or 2 small dried hot chiles
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (red wine vinegar is good)
  • Salt and pepper


Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Place garlic in a 9x13 baking dish and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove dish from the oven and push garlic to the sides of the dish.

Put chicken pieces in dish.

Spread honey over the chicken.

Place cherry tomatoes, rosemary, and chiles around chicken.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over everything.

Lightly salt and pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes, basting occasionally.

When chicken is done, remove from oven and place chicken and vegetables on a serving dish.

Add vinegar to the pan drippings and stir.

Pour sauce over the chicken and serve.