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Thanksgiving feast

Why We Should All Thank the Bees on Thanksgiving Day

Honey Bee collecting pollen

A honey bee pollinating an apple blossom. Photo Credit: Zechariah Judy, CreativeCommons.org

As temperatures drop and the leaves begin to fall, we are reminded that the holiday season is upon us yet again. From casseroles and salads, to side dishes and desserts, we have a lot on our heaping plates that we owe to honey bee pollination. Apis mellifera, the western honey bee, along with hundreds of native honey bee species, are responsible for many of our healthy, nutritious foods consumed to keep a balanced diet. Honey bees are viewed as the most proficient pollinator, largely due to the variety of crops they pollinate. Commercial beekeepers spend much of the year migrating honey bee colonies all over the United States to pollinate highly profitable crops, including almonds in California, alfalfa in the Dakotas, and cranberries in Maine, just to name a few. Here are some of our most beloved holiday dishes which reach our holiday tables as a result of the hard work of bees AND commercial beekeepers!  

Sweet Potato Casserole 

This sugar-filled casserole could arguably be featured on the dessert table. Variations of this recipe pair velvety whipped sweet potatoes topped with a crumbly mixture of brown sugar, butter, nuts, and even marshmallows. Did you know that sweet potatoes require pollination? North Carolina and Mississippi are top producers of sweet potatoes! Don’t forget that even some root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, need to be pollinated in top producing states like North Carolina and Mississippi.   

Green Bean Casserole  

This dish makes eating all your vegetables a pleasure! While green beans are self-pollinating, french onions, serving as a crunchy garnish on top, require honey bees for cross pollination.  

Cranberry Jello Salad 

Whether you prefer to open a can of cranberry sauce or prefer to prepare this delicious cranberry jello salad yourself, neither would be possible without the pollination of cranberries. This crop is typically pollinated in midsummer.

Squash Casserole

This southern delicacy has yellow squash as the star of the show, combined with other herbs and spices. Summer squash are part of the Cucurbitaceae  family, making them a relative of watermelons and cucumbers. Honey bees are typically provided for commercial pollination, but native bee specialists have also identified the “squash bee” as an excellent pollinator.  

Pumpkin Pie 

How could we possibly have Thanksgiving without a slice of grandma’s famous pumpkin pie with a generous dollop of whipped cream? Honey bees are crucial to improving the quality and quantity of the main ingredient in your beloved pie of choice, including pumpkin, apple, or pecan! 

Other popular Thanksgiving staples for which we should thank the bees:  

  • Apples 
  • Cranberries 
  • Pears 
  • Berries 
  • Brussel Sprouts  
  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower  
  • Sunflower Seeds  
  • Almonds 
  • Canola oil 
  • Carrots 
  • Onion 
  • Herbs 
  • Pomegranates  
  • Coffee 
  • Vanilla  

We hope this has been a pleasant reminder of just how important commercial beekeepers, honey bees and native pollinators are. Pollinators play critical role, not only in providing some of our favorite holiday staples, but also in supporting our agricultural industries and ecosystems every singlday of the year. Happy Thanksgiving! 

This blog was written by UF HBREL Intern, Lauren Roberts, Fall 2020.