Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bee Week! - Bee Friendly Gardens & Plants

Look after the Bees and they will look after you, by pollinating your flowers fruit trees and veggies. Bees need water, different varieties of pollen for their proteins year round, and nectar for their energy as well to turn into honey for themselves and us.

A strong hive can use up to a litre of water a day in the Summer! The Bees take it back home to evaporate to cool the hive. as well as drinking it.

One of our girls taking a drink
Hives right by the pond
Most urban beekeepers will make make sure that their hives have a supply of water nearby to prevent the Bees from hitting up the neighbours swimming pool in summer. This can be a slowly dripping tap into a post with stones in, to give them something to stand on and not drown, a poultry drinker, dog bowl or siting the hives near a pond or stream.
Our Bees love to hang out at the edge of the waterfall in our pond which is near the hives.

Bees need pollen all year round to feed their babies, it is their source of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Therefore a variety of plants, some of which flower in winter and autumn as well as the summer and spring flowering varieties is a good idea. Some research into CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) suggests that urban Bees do better than their rural counterparts as they have a wider variety of pollen and nectars to feed from. The monoculture environments where Bees are shipped from orchard to orchard for their pollination services (in the USA for example in the almond or stone fruit industry) will only provide pollen from one type of tree/plant. It would be like you or I only eating one type of protein rich food all the time, we would eventually lack some of the vital minerals, vitamins and amino acids our bodies need to be strong and fight infection. It has been suggested that that Bees who feed only one kind of pollen all summer are more likely to contract disease as well as succumbing to the deadly Varroa Destructor mite.

Bee with full pollen baskets on her legs 
Bees store Pollen as 'bee bread' in the frames next to the honey see the different yellow/orangey coloured cells? 

The primary energy source for Bees. Nectar contains sucrose, fructose and glucose. Again, different species of plants produce different types, flavours etc of nectar, this can give the honey some of its characteristics.

Each worker Bee in her lifetime only produces one teaspoon of honey - think about that the next time you get to the bottom of the honey jar and there is a teaspoon left.

Bees take the nectar back to the hive by storing in a separate 'honey stomach', when they get home they transfer it to a house Bee by mouth to mouth, the recipient house Bee mixes the nectar with enzymes from their stomach, this breaks down the sugars, starting to turn the nectar into honey. This nectar is stored in the cells of the honey comb and once most of the water has been evaporated from it, it is capped over with wax for storage.

Bees transferring nectar, mouth to mouth
Our early season light floral honey

We have found that if we take honey off the hives early in the summer it tends to be light and floral in taste, if we take the honey off towards the end of the summer it tends to be darker and richer.
This produces honey which are advertised as 'Clover',  'Pohutakawa' or Manuka' where the hives have been placed in locations where there is an abundance od one plant flowering at a time.
Bees tend to visit one species at a time, so If you do plant flowers for them its a good idea if you can, to have a lot of the same species so the pollen and nectar produced are utilised by the Bees.

Further Reading.

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