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Bees working an oakleaf hydrangea by John PierceBy John Pierce

National Pollinator Week is upon us once again and I hope you are making big plans.

Even if not, the most unaware benefits greatly from nature’s some 200,000 pollinators whose good work provide the fruits, vegetables and flowers we enjoy. The queen of all pollinators is the honeybee.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about one-third of our diet results from insect pollination of plants, according to Tennessee agricultural extension agent Tom Stebbins in a recent column in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Honeybees, he said, get credit for 80 percent of that invaluable effort.

I used to give a more precise number during my entomology demonstrations at Rock Eagle 4-H Center while a student at Ringgold (Ga.) High School. “The honey is responsible for 83 percent of all insect pollination,” I recall reciting repeatedly some decades ago.

One of my favorite youthful memories is of rising early on some Saturday mornings and climbing into my Uncle Bruce’s pickup truck for a predawn drive into Tennessee and up Monteagle Mountain. There he and my father had placed 10 hives of honeybees to help pollinate a commercial pimento pepper farm that belonged to the family of one of Dad’s coworkers.

In turn, the blossoms produced a wonderful crop of sweet honey that tasted nothing like the peppers that grew on the vines.  Each August, we would “rob’ the bees and haul the honey back to our Georgia home to cut the combs out of the frames or to extract and filter the golden liquid. (I can still smell the aroma that permeated our house.)

Dad and Uncle Bruce didn’t like the term “rob” the bees. They told me they invested much in the bees’ care and left them plenty to live on through the winter. The surplus we removed was simply “taking our part.”

After years of fiddling around in beehives, doing 4-H demonstrations and attending monthly meetings and annual short courses of the Chattanooga Area Beekeepers Association, some of that knowledge sunk into my hard teenaged head. In fact, my brother Rob and I took the surplus honey from our Uncle Ralph’s hives one year and split the sweet rewards with him.

Beekeeping has new challenges now and my current lifestyle (frequent traveling) doesn’t really fit the hobby. But I never buy a jar a honey (as I did in Savannah recently) that I don’t get the “bug” to have a hive or two of my own.

But whether we enjoy beekeeping or just the taste of nature’s most wonderful sweetener  — or simply appreciate having fruit and vegetables on the table, we are indebted to the honeybee and other busy pollinators.

And while many see the marvels of God’s great creation in oceans, mountains and valleys, there is no better revelation of divine creativity, order and beauty than peeking into a colony of bees — with a well-protected head.

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