Honey, Bee Nice to Bees

If there were no honey bees, there would be no Merrifield Garden Center. Many of the beautiful flowers, fruits and berries that grace our gardens would be missing and life as we know it would not exist. That’s because bees pollinate flowers that we rely on for seeds, food and fiber.

Humans evolved despite the extinction of dinosaurs. But we could not exist without honey bees.

Beyond food, honey bees pollinate plants that give us flowers that add beauty to our lives. How dreary life would be without red roses, yellow daffodils and orange tiger lilies. Merrifield’s Fair Oaks store is helping honey bees help humans. The store recently became home to about 160,000 honey bees in an apiary—a place where beehives are kept—for a research project at George Mason University.

“We invited some nurseries in the area to participate,” said Kathleen Curtis, Executive Assistant to the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason. “Merrifield was the first to step up and say they would like to volunteer as a research site. I appreciate their vision and understanding of what we are trying to do.”

Honey bees are important to the ecosystem, but their health has been challenged by the loss of habitat, pests and disease, and other environmental factors. The goal of the George Mason project is to raise awareness, promote sustainability and increase the local honey bee population.

“We consider honey bees to be friends of Merrifield Garden Center,” said Bob Warhurst, Merrifield’s Founder and President. “Gardening as we know it would not exist without their help.”

George Mason started the initiative in 2012 with one apiary on its Fairfax campus, and quickly expanded with a second apiary and beekeeping classes, which were a big hit. In 2013, enrollment maxed out with more than 100 eager students waiting on the bee-list.

Support for the project comes from the highest reaches of the university’s administration. Even George Mason President Angel Cabrera’s residence has a research site with hives, and the bees reside on the property of the provost’s residence, as well. Students enrolled in the program will manage these hives and collect research data.

From these diverse sources, information is pouring in on the strength of the hives, the affect of the pests and diseases and even the strength of the queen bee, who is vital to the continued growth of the honey bee population.

“If we had a dearth of bees, you would certainly notice it at breakfast,” Curtis said. “Your almond milk would disappear, all your fruits, your berries.” And scariest of all, bees even pollinate coffee plants. Now that’s a buzz most of us can’t do without.”

Honey bees may not get the respect they deserve because so many humans fear getting stung. But Curtis said they aren’t interested in stinging people or pets. They just want to do their DNA duty and pollinate something. The last thing they want to do—literally—is sting someone because they will die.

“It’s a sacrifice for them to sting you,” Curtis said. “They can’t accomplish their goal of providing for the hive.”