Honey bees need two foods to survive and both of these are provided by plants. The amazing relationship between bees and flowers strikes again. So what are these two vital foods and what exactly do honeybees eat?
They are nectar and pollen. Nectar, eventually to be converted into honey, is a liquid solution of sugar and water. Nectar is a honey bees carbohydrate. Bees convert sugar into energy so nectar is crucial for jobs such as flying, ventilating the hive, building comb etc.
Pollen is the main source of protein for the bees and also provides fats, minerals and vitamins. It is vital for brood production and the development of young bees.
(Pollen in cells)
Not all pollen is created equal and the nutritional value to bees will vary from plant to plant. Protein is made up of amino acids and ten of these have been identified as essential to honey bees. The amino acids present will vary between plants as will the raw protein available.
In terms of diet then, bees are not that different to us. They need variety. The more floral sources available to bees the better. This is why trying to combat the effects of things like climate change, pesticide use and intensive agriculture on biodiversity is essential.
(Honey bee enjoying crab apple)
We've talked in many of our blogs about wildflowers and how important these are, both in their own right and as a food source for bees. But there are also trees, shrubs, hedgerows and lawns, all of which provide food and habitat for countless wildlife.
Plantlife, a British conservation charity, are this week asking the question ‘how many bees does your lawn feed?’. They've got some brilliant information on how lawns can provide a banquet of food for pollinators. In fact limiting your mowing to once a month can give a huge boost to the flowers growing there. Dr Trevor Dines, a Plantlife botanist says “the sheer quantity of flowers and nectar production on lawns mown once a month can be astonishing”.
What are the bees eating at the moment? If you have any photos of bees on flowers we'd love to see them!