It was a celebration worthy of a queen when Washington State University opened its new Honey Bee + Pollinator Research, Extension and Education Facility in Othello in February.
The facility is located in one of the most productive agricultural areas in Washington. And bees have a lot of work to do there: Washington has the second largest area of bee pollinated crop (like fruit trees) of any state - second only to California.
About 200 people made the trek to Othello for tours and the official ribbon cutting of a facility that will allow researchers, students and beekeepers to work together in one location toward their common goal of securing a healthy future for the honey bee.
News from the world of honeybees has been depressing the last couple of years: colony collapse and the impact of some pesticides has made it a tough time for bees and beekeepers.
Northwest beekeepers rely on WSU labs to analyze samples from struggling bee hives. The new facility will make this research easier and aide in discovering the reason - and maybe even find a cure for - colony collapse.
Honeybees are just now beginning to leave their hives looking for pollen from early blooming plants like lungwort and colorful spring bulb flowers. Blooming trees are also a great source of pollen, and so are dandelions. Yes, dandelions, the little bright yellow pests gardeners love to hate. One of the best things to do for honeybees right now is to let the dandelions bloom - you can always mow them over when they are ready to go to seed so they don’t spread so much.
In later spring, herbs like chives, thyme and dill provide lots of pollen for bees. In the flower garden, bees are especially fond of salvia, lavender and bee balm, coneflowers and globe thistle - all flowers that thrive in the hot, dry Eastern Washington summers.
Bees also need water and are frequent guests at birdbaths and in ponds.
It really is true that bees won’t sting you unless you squeeze or poke them. A bee’s lifespan is about six weeks and it can fly six-seven miles in one stretch at about 15 mph. According to American Bee Journal, to make a pound of honey one bee would have to fly about 90,000 miles - so it’s a good thing the thousands of other bees in the hive help out.