Around a third of all we consume is reliant on honey bee pollination. Foods such as almonds, carrots, blueberries, broccoli, onions, cucumbers, apples and strawberries would be lost with them.
In the UK there are approximately 17,000 beekeepers looking after bee hives. A hive can contain up to 70,000 bees in midsummer. There are 1 queen, 250 drones, 20,000 female foragers, 30,000 female house-bees, 5,000 to 7,000 eggs, 7,000-11,000 larvae being fed and 16,000 to 24,000 larvae developing into adults in sealed cells.
The queen makes a mating flight during her early life during which she stores the sperm from up to 20 drones. Drones that mate with her die in the act. She can store the sperm for up to 5 years.
Bees are 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.
A foraging bee can fly up to 3 miles, but mostly works within 150 yards of her hive. She won’t begin flying until the temperature reaches 16°C, the sun is shining and there’s no sign of rain.
A worker honeybee in summer lives only 6 to 8 weeks from the time she hatches as an adult bee. Before that, it takes just 3 weeks for her to develop from an egg.
During the winter the bees rarely leave the hive but cluster together to keep warm. Winter bees live for 6 months and will occasionally go outside to defecate in order to keep the hive clean.
To collect 450g of honey (the average amount of a jar), a bee might have to fly a distance equivalent to twice round the world. This is likely to involve more than 10,000 flower visits on perhaps 500 foraging trips. In a single collecting trip, a worker will visit between 50 and 100 flowers and return to the hive carrying over half her weight in pollen and nectar.
It takes 22,700 bees to fill a single jar of honey.
We can all do our bit to help out honey bees.
Just one pot of lavender on a window sill will give a little pollen and nectar for a bee. And once a bee has found some lavender she will remain loyal to lavender until she can find no more. So she will ensure pollination and feed the hive.
Coming back to the hive she will dance the waggle dance – figure of eight dance used by bees to communicate the location of pollen and nectar rich forage. The angle of the dance indicates the direction of food in relation to the position of the sun. And the scent of the lavender will rub off on the other bees telling them what is in bloom.
They especially love mauves and purples. Bees have a sight spectrum shifted up from us. They cannot see red but can see ultraviolet and beyond – colours we don’t even have names for.
Here are some of our favourite things to plant for bees:
Lavender * Buddleia * Scabius * Nemesia
Amelias * Phlox * Hot Lips Salvia
White & Purple Salvias * Wendy’s Wish Salvia
Erodium * Penstemon * Nepeta
Phlox * Sweet Pea * Armeria Martima
Columbine * Hyssop * Flowering Basil
Flowering Thyme * Lemon Balm
Rosemary * Honeysuckle * Marjoram
Thyme * Jasmine * Aliums
Catnip * Bergamot * Foxglove