Pleasing the Bees

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

[Note from Nan: Our newest guest contributor, Catherine Renzi, is owner of Yellow Springs Farm Native Plants Nursery in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Her posts will focus on the importance of native plants for habitat, biodiversity, and sustainability, as well as their great colors, textures, and the aesthetics. You can find out more about her and the nursery by visiting the Yellow Springs Farm website.]

bee_hivesLike other animals, honey bees require adequate shelter and food in order to survive. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not a native species, but were brought to America by European colonists. It is especially interesting to see how this “Old World” species selects among native plants (“New World” species) and naturalized European and Asian species to fill its needs.

Food for honey bees is made up of water, nectar, and pollens. Water is as essential to honey bees as it is to us, for the same reasons. Nectar provides a good deal of water and sugar. The sugar can be used immediately by the bees for energy or brood rearing, or stored as honey for later consumption when sugar is needed and nectar is no longer available in winter.

When the temperature reaches about 45 degrees F, honeybees are out looking for nectar (sugar) and pollen (protein). Pollens make up the nutritionally most important food in the hive. They provide the proteins, lipids, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that support adult bee physiological equilibrium and brood development.

pussy_willowWhen we watch the honeybees working in early Spring, we see they are attracted to non- native flowers such as Crocus and Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). But, they are also eager to find Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) and Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) in flower. The bees return to the hive and dance to tell the others where to find the day’s harvest. Unlike butterflies, honeybees visit only one species per flight. They do not snack or browse, for example, from Crocus to Willow, to Maple, and back again. These patterns and preferences are fascinating parts of enjoying biodiversity in the garden.

Catherine Renzi

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Nancy Bond March 22, 2009, 7:30 pm

My grandfather used to raise honey bees and I was always fascinated to watch him don his protective gear and tend his hives. He also had a large orchard — synergy at its best. 🙂

Working bees usually hate interruptions, but the gloves and head protection especially make it easier to tend the hives without worries.

Benjamin March 22, 2009, 8:24 pm

I didn’t know that about their single trips to various plants. I had one in my bird feeder a week or so ago, and even have a pic on my site. I thought that was especially unusual.

Bees find pollen wherever they can. Perhaps the bird feeder was inadvertently a good source for them in these lean days of early Spring? I would be curious to know if you had cracked corn, or which type of seed(s) out for the birds.

Pam Kersting March 25, 2009, 6:16 pm

I’ve always wanted to be a bee keeper! Maybe one day, my dream will come true!

I hope you will realize your dream. Many states and counties have beekeepers’ groups and associations that offer educational meetings and materials to help you get started. Good luck!

Sweet Bay March 26, 2009, 12:39 pm

We have a lot of honeybees in our area. I’ve always wondered if any of our neighbors are beekeepers.

Bees will commonly travel 1-2 miles to find pollen or nectar, so there is likely a beekeeper or two in your area.
Many states ask beekeepers to register their hives. If you would like to check with your state’s department of agriculture, you might be able to find out if anyone in your community has registered hives. You also might check to see if your County has a beekeepers’ club or association, and find out more about local beekeeping.

Benjamin March 28, 2009, 7:39 pm

Catherine, we had just black sunflower seeds. Strange to me!

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