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. In the Autumn, the colony reduces to around 5-7,000 workers to keep it ‘ticking over’ through the winter. The remaining drones are killed.
Honey bees feed themselves and their larvae by collecting pollen, nectar and water. As a result, 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. The bees mix it with enzymes from glands in their mouths. The nectar/enzyme mix is stored in hexagonal wax honeycomb. The bees reduce the water content to around 17% and the mixture becomes honey. The honey is capped in cells, until the bees need it, with a thin layer of wax to seal it.
Honey bees are special in that they over winter as a colony, unlike wasps and bumblebees . The colony does not hibernate in the winter but stays active and clusters together to stay warm. A colony need to collect a lot of food in the summer to survive the winter. A hive only needs 30-40 lb of honey to survive an average winter, although the bees are capable of collecting much more. The extra honey we collect from the hives is what we enjoy on our toast in the morning!
The Importance of Bees
Bees are pollinators and are vital to our food chain. But for bees, one third of the food we eat would not be available. 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 commercial crops in the UK has been estimated at around £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. Consequently most wild honey bee colonies have died out as a result of this pest. The treatment and care provided by beekeepers keeps colonies alive and well.
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” and as a result improve the forage available for insects in your area.
Ask your local authority to adapt their planting scheme in order to make it more bee friendly. Local authorities have responsibility for large areas of parkland, roundabouts and verges and consequently they can make a big difference with some small changes.
Please click on link below for ideas on planting for bees.