Buzz about the importance of bees

Historical society does natural history

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  • Pollinator-in-chief

  • There have been "amazing strides in scientific applications of honey." It also tastes very good. Photo by Amy Shewchuk

  • Beekeeper Christopher Yates explains the 'Importance of Bees' at Sparta Historical Society lecture Photo by Amy Shewchuk


— The Sparta Historical Society and their Sparta Community Gardens hosted the first of a short series of lectures on ‘pollinators’ last Thursday night.

Christopher Yates, vice president of the NJ Beekeepers Association, president of the Morris-Somerset Counties Beekeeping Association and Mayor of Harding Twp., NJ gave the informative lecture. Most attendees were either gardeners or hobbyists and some were just interested in why bees are “important”.

Yates described all things bees — their life cycle, mating habits, contributions and the threats they are under.

“The honeybee is the only species of bee that makes more honey than it can consume. As long as they have a place to store the honey, they will keep making it." Yates said. "They are also highly social creatures. They have a very defined caste system consisting of Queens, workers and drones. The Queen decides whether she lays a fertilized (worker/Queen) egg or an unfertilized (drone) egg. She basically controls the destiny of the colony.”

There are over 600 pheromones in beehives that turn biological processes on and off.

“I don’t think that honeybees are actually intelligent, that’s kind of anthrophomorphizing the animal,” Yates said. “The pheromones signal what is going on in the hive. Everything managed in the hive is due to the pheromones and the caste system. The hive itself is a super organism.”

Yates described the differences between bees and wasps, the processes of beekeeping as well as how a natural hive functions, the process of extracting honey from beeswax and the benefits of honey.

“It’s not scientifically proven that ingesting local honey can help with allergies," he said. "It’s one of those things that some people swear by but it’s technically not proven. On the other hand, there have been amazing strides in scientific applications for honey. Honey has antibacterial effects when applied topically and has been used recently on burn victims. It is not only antibiotic but also acidic, so it helps to heal and slough away dead skin while healing the intact tissue.”

He also discussed the challenges currently facing the honeybee, mostly due to a viral parasitic mite called varroa.

“Keeping bees before and after 1987 are two different worlds, due to this parasitic virus that has changed beekeeping at its foundation,” Yates said.

Other challenges for modern day beekeepers include a lack of variety in local farming (monoculture agriculture), lack of forage for the bees, environmental chemicals, poor regulations and poor beekeeping practices.

On the ‘Importance of Bees,’ Yates said, “Honeybees are foundational to our food supply. About one-third of the food we eat requires pollination and honeybees are by far the most important pollinators. Many of the fruits and vegetables we take for granted would be in short supply or rarely found without the bees.”

At a young age Yates became a member of the 4H Club and began keeping bees on his grandparents’ farm when he was only in fourth grade. Today he maintains an apiary, an extensive garden and small orchard on his home property.

The Sparta Historical Society will continue to host more of these short series lectures on pollinators at the Sparta VFW Building located at 66 Main Street. For more information visit their Facebook Page @SpartaNjHistoricalSociety

The New Spring Exhibit, “Life Along the Wallkill” is currently on display at the Van Kirk Homestead Museum, located at 336 Main Street Sparta (Rt. 517, use Middle School Driveway). It will be open Sundays May 13, May 27, June 10 and June 24 from 1-4pm with a 2pm talk. For further details or group reservations call (973) 726-0883 or email:

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