This spring, Stone Barns bees will be doing a lot more than pollinating our crops and producing honey for us to enjoy: They will be helping NASA scientists monitor what a warming climate may do to agriculture.
Stone Barns is participating in a long-term study initiated by master beekeeper and NASA scientist Wayne Esaias to gather data on changes in the timing of plant pollination by bees, measured by the amount of nectar stored in hives over the spring and summer growing seasons. Esaias launched his study to “ground truth” what he was seeing on NASA’s satellite imagery – that planet Earth is turning greener, earlier, each spring. Already his study has found that peak nectar flows in Maryland are occurring four weeks earlier than in the 1970s. “How these changes will impact ecosystems and agriculture needs to be carefully assessed,” says Esaias on his website, HoneyBeeNet.
If this sounds like a weighty task for such a small insect, it is really all in a day’s work for the mighty honey bee. All the bees have to do is go about their normal business of gleaning nectar from field, forest and garden and depositing it in one of the 14 hives on the farm. Beginning in early April, Craig Haney and Dan Carr of Stone Barns Center will weigh three hives every day using scales installed underneath. They will then upload the data to HoneyBeeNet, where it can be shared and analyzed by Esaias and his colleagues. Our bees are among the first in the Northeast to participate in the study.
Gathering such information has local benefits, too. By measuring the nectar flows on the farm, we not only monitor the health of our hives more closely but better understand when crops are being pollinated – careful observation that helps nurture an even deeper connection with the ecosystem that sustains us.
Some three-quarters of all flowering plants require pollinators like bees or butterflies to produce fruit. We estimate that Stone Barns bees work a five-mile radius covering 6,000 acres. And we are deeply grateful.
Originally published on April 5, 2011