Honey bees – AKA Apis mellifere. They’re insects that everyone associates with black and yellow/orange stripes, hives and, of course, honey. But there is so much more to these winged invertebrates than that.
As a principal player in pollination, a whopping one third of the food we eat wouldn’t be available without honey bees. Not to mention the flowers and plants in your garden. Yet, despite many beekeepers great efforts, honey bee populations have been struggling – the result of an increase in the varroa mite, disease, loss of habitat and an increase in the use of pesticides.
Meet the honey bee
Did you know…?
· Honey bees have five eyes, four wings and six legs
· Their favourite colours are mauves and purples – but they cannot see red
· They can fly at 20 mph
Honey bees are social insects. You’ll likely find up to 60,000 of them in a hive come mid-summer – worker bees, drones and the Queen. It’s the worker bees that you’ll spot on our planters as it’s their job to forage for food (pollen and nectar), as well as to build and protect the hive.
Bees become busy outside of the hive from the onset of warm spring weather until the beginning of autumn. While flowers are in bloom, they will collect nectar and make it into honey, which they store in the hive to live on over the winter months. During the winter, the bees rarely leave the hive, but cluster together to keep warm. While a worker honey bee in the summer lives for only 6-8 weeks; winter bees can survive for up to six months.
Did you know…?
· Each honey bee produces around a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime
· It takes 10 million foraging trips to fill a single jar of honey
Honey bees need forage to survive and to keep up the strength they need to turn nectar into honey. They forage on pollen (hence pollination) for feeding young as well as nectar. When they find a good source of food, they will come back to the hive and perform a Waggle Dance – a figure of eight routine used by bees to communicate the location to their fellow bees. The angle of the dance, indicates the direction of the food in relation to the positive of the sun, while the scent of the plant will rub off on the other bees in the process, telling them what it is exactly that is in bloom.
Honey is made when nectar gathered from plants is passed from bee to bee (through their mouths) and chewed into honey. It is stored in honeycomb cells and the bees will fan it with their wings to dry it out and make it sticky. You know when it is ready, because the bees will seal the comb with a wax lid.
Feed the bees
Here are some of our favourite flowers, shrubs and trees to plant to provide honey bees with year-round forage. Other pollinators will benefit, too.
(from left to right) primrose, borage, hawthorn, lovage, honesty, viburnum, sweet alyssum, apple tree, flowering currant
(from left to right) dog rose, marigold, valerian, verbena, phlox, geraniums, lavender, rosemary, rose campion
(from left to right) heather, hellebore, winter honeysuckle, sweet box, daphne, sedum, snowdrop, ivy, crocus
You can find five more ways to help honey bees in this blog post we wrote for the British Blanket Company.
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Want to know more? Read these interesting bee-related articles.