In the land of milk and honey

Ava Pratt and Danjil Stuurman of Maple House Pre-school in Somerset West with sayings in celebration of honouring bees and the vital role they play in our eco-system.

As 2017 was declared the Year of Sustainable Tourism by the United Nations, Maple House Preschool in Somerset West introduced our “little tourists” to delicious South African honey, and shared the plight of local bees.

We are a Platinum Eco School, in our eighth year of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eco School’s programme.

An article in a National Geographic in November 2015 caught our eye, stating the following:

“While excavating Egypt’s famous pyramids, archaeologists have found pots of honey in an ancient tomb.

“The honey, dating back approximately 3 000 years, is the world’s oldest sample – and still perfectly edible.

“The ancient Egyptians used honey for a multiple of purposes including as a sweetener, a gift for the gods and an ingredient in embalming fluid.”

While analysing pottery from prehistoric vessels, researchers found that honey was used as far back as the Stone Age.

Multiple factors contribute to the fact that honey cannot spoil.

One of the most interesting facts is that little bees are so miraculously and perfectly designed that they can dry out nectar and lower the water content of honey by simply flapping their wings.

The chemical make-up of a bee’s “honey tummy” also contributes to the fact that honey can outlast us all.

The Egyptians apparently even transported their bee-hives on boats along the Nile River, to specific sites where there were more flowers.

The children were amazed to see a 15 000-year-old rock art painting of a honey hunter harvesting honey and wax from a bee nest in a tree, in a Spanish cave. The bees depicted are enormous in comparison to the human.

We also showed them photographs of an archeological site in Israel, where the oldest bee hives constructed from baked clay and straw, were discovered.

Each hive had a “plug” through which the beekeeper could extract and the other end had a little hole, for bees to enter.

Old beeswax, and bee parts originating from what we today know as Turkey, were found inside, and 30 of these clay hives could have produced half a ton of honey a year. Honey was a lucrative agricultural practice.

Many verses in the Bible mention honey, and one of the most beautiful is: “Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24)

In ancient times, bee wax was also used to seal the space between the wooden frame and a clay board, used for writing.

As we continued our research and compiled our lesson plan, we came across astonishing facts and the excitement to share this knowledge with our children grew.

We started by planning a “Bee Awareness Dress-Up Day” for the whole school, from our baby department to the Grade RR’s, and used this wonderful theme to pull all subjects together such as art, music and rhymes, maths, phonics, life skills and our eco work.

We have a mom in the school with beautiful skin. Upon asking her what she does to have such a radiant and glowing skin, she replied that she occasionally applies raw, unprocessed honey onto her skin, and lets those enzymes work for her.

But how would we introduce our country’s fabulous honey to visiting tourists?

The following came to mind: Tourists visiting our country to view miraculous spring veld flowers up the West Coast, will definitely make a stop at Simply Bee in Hopefield, and taste local Fynbos honey.

Overberg Honey in Stanford and The Honey Stall in Hermanus would also be a lovely places for tourists to visit.

Our local South African bees don’t realise it, but they are in fact contributing to job creation, and people working here are very passionate and knowledgeable about their region’s honey.

To fully appreciate the beauty and benefits of a jar of pure honey, we felt that children and teachers alike needed to be reminded of what a wondrous and perfect little creation a bee really is – it is in fact a staggering realization. Bees are perfectly designed to do their tasks and if taken out of our Planet’s equation, the world will feel an unparalleled ripple effect.

In a bee’s body there is a metal called magnetite which is used in navigation and this navigational ability might be disrupted by cellphones and cellphone towers.

Furthermore, if we needed to be reminded of the importance of protecting all bees on our planet, here are some of the foods that would simply disappear if we continue to destroy their natural habitat, pollute and spray pesticides.

Bees pollinate almonds, pears, pomegranates, blueberries, cranberries, peaches, plums, watermelon, cherries, apricots, guavas, mangoes, apples, strawberries, melons, kiwis, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, figs, lemons, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, squash, onions, cashews, celery, cocoa, avocados, vanilla, cotton etc.

One third of our food sources on earth depend on pollination. Decline of bee numbers, will have a disturbing ripple effect on the human race and our diet. Most vegetables and fruit, as we know it, would disappear and our plates would become dull and colourless.

This is also the reason why Morgan Freeman, world famous actor, decided to convert his 124 acre Mississippi ranch into a giant bee sanctuary. At age 80, he now calls himself, a “Bee-keeper”. This decision was in response to the worldwide massive decline of bee-numbers.

Over many acres he brought in tons of bee-friendly plants, planted fruit trees, magnolia trees and lavender. This ranch is now filled with meadows of flowers as far as the eye can see.

South African bee-keepers know that they need to expose their little worker bees to a variety of food sources to strengthen their immune systems.

That is why they might station their beehives in fynbos areas, rather than just introducing one crop, such as canola. For a bee to just have canola at hand, is the equivalent of a person eating only bread.

South African farmers are encouraged to move away from mono-cropping and do more companion planting. They must also strive to keep a small patch of land open and are discouraged from introducing genetically modified crops.

More wine farmers are now also planting cover crops such as clover, which provide bees with a nutritious food source, and this process also enhances vineyard nutrition.

Even in a small patio garden, a very easy companion planting system could be introduced and kept alive with grey water:

Borage goes with tomatoes, squash and strawberries. Bees simply love borage with its delicate purple flowers.

Chamomile goes with onions, improves the flavour and is a tonic for everything in your garden. Echinacea is always a backbone, and the roots heal the soil and the flowers are a magnet for bees. This is a true meadow wildflower.

Lavender nourishes nectar feeding bees and the benefits of lavender are legendary. Rosemary goes well with beans and sage, and bees love the flowers, and nasturtiums and rosemary flowers are a lovely back-up plant for bees.

There were some very astonishing and fascinating facts that the children could not believe: Bees’ sense of smell is excellent. They will always work in a radius of about 5km away from their hives. It is a good idea to group flowers together and make it easier for them to find.

Honey is an expensive item. A little bee has to fly back and forth 150 times, to produce approximately one teaspoon of honey. They also prefer certain flowers above others, according to the lengths of their tongues.

Bees have their own language – they sing and dance just like us. It is dark inside a hive, therefore bees listen
to the vibrations of sound and dance. They have different methods that explorer bees use to signal to other bees indicating where flowers are situated.

We introduced the children to various wonderful products containing honey and bee wax such as soaps, lip balm, body butters, skincare products, wax candles, teas, South African honey as well as furniture wax and wood conditioning products.

And then the big and busy Bee Dress-up Day arrived, which was tremendous fun!

On this day, we introduced slogans that they shared with each other: Bee polite. Bee kind. Bee smart. Bee happy. Bee amazing.

To see more of the pics from our awareness week, check out the online version of Bolander.