The colony has one Queen ( who lays all the eggs), and approximately 3,000 drones (males) and 50-60,000 female worker bees at the peak of summer. Remaining drones are killed in the Autumn and the colony has about 5-7,000 workers to keep it ‘ticking over’ through the winter.
Honey bees collect pollen, nectar and water to feed themselves and their larvae. By doing so they pollinate fruit, flowers, vegetables and crops which puts the food on our plate.
Bees take nectar, which is a sweet sticky substance exuded by most flowers and mix it with enzymes from glands in their mouths. This nectar/enzyme mix is stored in hexagonal wax honeycomb until the water content has been reduced to around 17% to become honey. When this level is reached the cell is capped over with a thin layer of wax to seal it until the bees need it.
Honey bees are special in that they over winter as a colony unlike wasps and bumblebees. The colony does not hibernate but stays active and clusters together to stay warm. This requires a lot of food stored from the summer before. Although a hive only needs 30-40 lb of honey to survive an average winter, the bees are capable, if given the space of collecting much more. The extra honey produced is taken off the bees and is what we have on our toast in the morning!
The Importance of Bees
Bees are pollinators vital to our food chain. One third of the food we eat would not be available but for bees.In the UK about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. In addition, bees pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of the feed of farm animals. The economic value of honey bees and bumblebees as pollinators of commercially grown insect pollinated crops in the UK has been estimated at between £400-£600 million per year.
Bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb the natural habitats and forage of solitary and bumblebees at a rate which gives them little chance for re-establishment. The honey bee is under attack from the varroa mite and it is only the treatment and care provided by beekeepers that is keeping colonies alive. Most wild honey bee colonies have died out as a result of this disease.
How can we help?
We can help by planting for pollinators. Choose plants and trees with pollinating insects in mind. Encourage your neighbours to help you create a “bee corridor” to improve the forage available for insects in your area.
Ask your local authority to adapt their planting scheme to make it more bee friendly. Local authorities are responsible for large areas of parkland, roundabouts and verges and make a big difference with some small changes.
Please click on link below for ideas on planting for bees.