Today (20th May) is World Bee Day! Designated by the UN, the day raises awareness of the importance of bees, the threats that they face and their contribution to sustainable development.
To find out more about these rather special pollinators I swapped London for the Essex countryside where a family friend, Fiona, keeps bees at the bottom of her garden!
Fiona estimates that her two hives attract as many as 40,000-50,000 honey bees each that, during the spring and summer months, collect pollen and nectar from the local area as food for the colony. In doing so the bees act as pollinators, transferring pollen between flowering plants and fertilising them.
Many farmers actually depend on bees to fertilise their crops for the production of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. In fact, it’s thought that up to $577 billion of annual global food production relies on pollination by insects such as bees!
If you want to attract bees into your garden then a great way to do so is through the planting of bee friendly flowers such as foxgloves, honeysuckle, geraniums, heather and cherry.
Interestingly, bees can see purple more clearly than any other colour so if you really want to encourage them then it’s best to plant lots of purple flowers such as lavender, buddleja and wisteria which this honey bee is loving in the photo above!
Once the bees have collected as much pollen and nectar as their own weight, they will return to the hive and store it in the honeycomb cells as food. Using the wax glands underneath their abdomen, the bees then seal the surface of each cell with wax.
Although the majority of cells are a golden yellow, some were bright red because, just as flowers have different colours, so do their pollen. We later identified that the red pollen was collected from the Horse Chestnut tree nearby, which you can see in the background of the photo below!
But it’s the nectar that the bees use to create honey. In the hive the nectar is passed mouth-to-mouth from one bee to another which enriches the nectar with enzymes and withdraws excess water. During the ripening process the moisture content is reduced to around 20% before being sealed in the honeycomb cell.
Did you know that to produce 1 pound of honey, approximately 2 million flowers must be visited?!
An afternoon of beekeeping later and I’m already inspired to one day keep some hives of my own!