What's All The Buzz About?

Without bees, there would be no pumpkins, no apples, no oranges and no onions — to name just a few of the crops that wouldn't exist if bees didn't accumulate pollen from male flowers and deposit it in female flowers.

David Hackenberg has been a beekeeper for more than 40 years.

"People don't understand how important this honey bee is to, you know, the survival of us," he says. "One-third of all the food we eat is derived from honeybee pollination. It actually amounts to about $14.5 billion a year in the United States, what the value of food that is produced from pollination of honeybees," he tells CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Martha Teichner.

If those statistics surprise you, be prepared to be amazed. Holley Bishop is the author of "Robbing The Bees" and an amateur beekeeper.

"A bee lives for six weeks, that's it," she says. "And in that entire lifetime she'll make about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey."

In addition to nerve, a beekeeper needs two things: a willingness to make a fashion statement, and a smoker. Puff smoke at agitated bees, and they'll go back in the hive and calm down.

"Bees eat honey," Bishop says. "That is why honey exists. Bees take nectar from the landscape they'll gather from about two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Nectar is about 80 percent water. They'll bring it back to the hive and dry it out, until it's about 16 percent water, and then it's honey."

A drawing of a rock painting from around 6000 B.C. is an indication of how long people have been robbing the bees in one way or another. The ancient Egyptians did it. The medieval Europeans did it — at times with a vengeance against their enemies. You've heard of dive-bombing? How about hive-bombing?

"Bees are typically, habitually gentle," Bishop says. "But if they're, you know, thrown through the air in a catapult, by the time they landed they were furious, and they would just sting whoever, you know, wherever they landed. That was a pretty effective weapon."

Before the pilgrims brought them to Plymouth Rock, there were no honey bees in North America. Supposedly, the Indians called them "white man's flies."

There are something like 60,000 bees in a healthy hive, almost all of them female. The males, or drones, have one job: to mate with the queen and then die. You can actually see it in "Tales From the Hive," shown on the PBS program Nova. The documentary also shows how bees communicate by dancing.

David Hackenberg is one of about 1,600 commercial beekeepers in the U.S., compared to more than 200,000 amateurs.

We're some of the last cowboys of the West," he says. "Instead of roundin' up cows, we're roundin' up bees and moving them around the country."

Hackenberg averages 5,500 miles a year renting his 3,000 hives to farmers from Florida to Maine to pollinate their crops because there aren't enough wild bees to do the job.

The honey produced along the way takes on the taste of whatever is being pollinated. Hackenberg processes a quarter of a million pounds of honey a year, extracting it with a big centrifuge.

What's astonishing is watching how nonchalant the people who work around bees are about getting stung.

"I'd rather get stung by a bee that a mosquito," Hackenberg says.

  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.