As the weather warms up, the Jersey growing season is getting underway, which means millions of honey bees will soon be buzzing around the Garden State, playing a crucial role in our food chain.

New Jersey state apiarist Meghan McConnell said many fruit and vegetable crops, including blueberries and cranberries, get a much-needed boost from thousands of bee colonies that are brought to the state starting this month.

“We definitely rely on honey bees to pollinate those crops, and even other foods that we enjoy, such as ice cream,” she said. “Bees are going to pollinate alfalfa, which is fed to cows, which eventually produces milk and then ice cream, which we all love and enjoy in the summer.”

“One out of every three bites of food that we eat is directly pollinated by a honey bee," she added.

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Bee colonies are trucked in from Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Each colony may contain between 20,000 and 60,000 bees.

New Jersey has as many as 4,000 beekeepers who help pollinate smaller farms and backyard gardens.

To become an amateur beekeeper you can take a class with the state Beekeepers Association. With about a quarter of an acre of land, you could have between 50,000 and 150,000 bees living next to your house.

Honey bees are not aggressive.

“Neighbors definitely shouldn’t be concerned,” she said. “You can show them the New Jersey best management practices and everything you need to do. And sharing a jar of honey with them doesn’t hurt at all.”

She recommends reaching out to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association for information about how to get started.

She pointed out for the past 15 years, bees have faced threats from viruses and as many as 40% of honey bee colonies perish every winter. Their No. 1 enemy is a parasite called the verroa mite.

McConnell said treatments have been developed that kill the verroa mite but not the bees and different management plans can be used to stop the parasite from destroying bee colonies.

She said people who are not beekeepers can also help the insects.

“They can plant flowers, trees or shrubs that bloom in early spring. Also something that will bloom in late summer: This is when there’s the least amount of resources available for bees and they need food," she said.

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