For the love of Bees

Why buying local natural and sustainable honey is the best you can get, for your health , for bees and for the environment.

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For the love of Bees

What is a bees favourite colour?

Written by Joe Hartley, young Hampshire beekeeper

Why buying local natural and sustainable honey is the best you can get,  for your health , for bees and for the environment.

Surviving the winter

How long honeybees live depends on the time of year.  In the spring/summer, their lifespan is 6-8 weeks and in the winter they can live for up to five months.  Bees don’t technically hibernate in the winter although it seems like they do.  During the winter, their sole purpose is one of conservation and survival.  Bees’ muscles don’t work in temperatures much below 10C where there is the need to conserve energy.  It is crucial that the brood hatched at the end of the autumn are kept alive throughout the winter at a temperature of 35C, so it is the job of the adult bees to cluster together around them and vibrate their muscles to generate heat.  To maintain this warm cluster, or ball of bees around the brood, bees grip onto on another’s legs which gives them less chance of falling and dying of cold.  Moisture too can be a killer.  In the same way as the water vapour that humans give off in breathing or sweating, bees create water vapour, which in a badly ventilated environment, can condense to form droplets on the roof of the hive.  Evaporation causes the hive to cool down – useful in summer – but can reduce the temperature too far for the colony to survive in winter. 

Once the outside temperature reaches around 10C or more, the first bees to emerge a hive will be those who have been kept warmest in the hive and in the fittest state to forage for much needed food sources.  Bees need the sun for warmth and to orient themselves so it stands to reason that they don’t like rain or cloudy weather.  Whether they come out is also due to what flowers might be available as a source of food.  In the spring, heather is a popular choice – it blooms early and flowers are in abundance.  Heather honey is woody and fresh tasting, quite different to the commercially produced honey you might find in supermarkets.

Bees have a favorite colour

To the human eye, blue or purple coloured flowers are the most attractive to bees.  Bees see in ultraviolet and to them, blue hues are yellow.  Bees’ special vision also enables them to see a clever marking system in flowers that help them navigate to the nectar called nectar bullseyes.  For instance, where humans see a tulip in one tone, a bee will see the outside of the tulip petals in one tone but the centre a brighter tone to help direct the bee to the nectar.  Bees help plants and plants help bees.

Queen bees

All bees’ eggs are the same when they are laid, and every egg is laid by the queen bee.  What sex or function the emerging bee will perform is up to the hive and depends on what is required for the colony’s survival, although for most of the year, the hive is almost entirely female.  Despite her importance, it is a common misconception that the queen bee oversees the hive.  Her sole purpose is to lay eggs which can be around 1500 a day in a healthy well fed hive.  If she is unpopular or is not doing a good enough job of laying eggs or gets older and her egg laying gets less, the colony will decide to kill her off and produce a new one.  She has attendants that see to her every need, feeding and cleaning her so that valuable time is not wasted while she could be producing more eggs. 

Swarms are a positive sign

In a thriving colony, many eggs make many bees which is a very good thing and the sight of a swarm is a reason to celebrate.  Swarms happen when a hive comes to a state of overpopulation and when the weather warms up. While many people are afraid of bees and the sign of swarming bees can certainly alarm them, this is when the bees are at their most vulnerable – exposed and homeless.  Before they swarm, bees gorge on honey from their hive making them fat and drowsy and at their most docile.  Their food reserves are to keep them going for several days while the search for a new home and can start foraging again.

When bees decide to swarm, 50% of bees from the hive (several thousand in number) together with the incumbent queen, will decide to leave the hive and gather close by in order to orientate themselves first before they can move on.  They will settle in a clump around the queen and send out scout bees whose job it is to look for a new home.  This might take a few days and is quite normal.  Bees communicate using pheromones or chemical signals in order to work out where they are and where they need to go.  Meanwhile, the remaining bees in the hive will realise that they have lost their queen and will set about creating a new one from an egg that the previous queen laid before she left. 

If a new queen is necessary, bees select eggs at random and feed them Royal Jelly building them up into queen cells which look a little like peanuts and are roughly the same size.  The larger size is because a queen is a much larger bee, requiring more room in the larvae stage and consequently more food.

As many potential queens are being ‘grown’ at the same time, then it is the first that hatches and successfully navigates around the hive to find all the other queen cells in order to sting the occupants and kill then off that becomes the new queen bee.  The process to create a new queen takes 16 days.

What happens next is that the unfertilised new queen embarks on a mating flight and mates with as many drones as she can.  This is her only chance at mating as she retreats to the hive after that to perform her only task which is laying eggs, not coming out of the hive again unless to swarm.

The hardest workers

The bees that you will see out and about gathering nectar and water are all female.  In fact, for most of the year, the hive is almost entirely female.  During the early spring/summer, when the colony is looking to expand, bees will create drones. Drones have no stinger, they are double the size of the worker bees and their only purpose is to mate with an unfertilised queen bee. Once they have performed their role, the female bees will exclude them from the hive for taking up valuable resources – food and space – and they will not be allowed back inside as they have no further purpose in defence or collection of nectar.  Consequently, they end up becoming food for birds or die due to temperature extremes.  Some will die without having mated at all.

Different roles for the worker bees

Nurse bees:

For the babies.  They feed the larvae with honey and keep them clean.

Queens assistants:

The queen doesn’t do anything for herself, she is fed and kept clean.

Guard bees:

Usually found at the entrance of the hive.  They act as border control making sue that every bee that tries to come in belongs to that colony.  They defend against wasps, spiders etc.

Undertaker bees:

Bees like to live in a clean environment.  Bees do die in the hive and it is the job of the undertakers to take the dead bees out that fall to the bottom and dispose of them by throwing them out.

Forager bees

These are the ones that go out to get food and water.

Fanning bees

If temperatures in the summer gets critically high and can affect the hive, fanning bees will gather water, stand by the entrance of the hive and fan their wings creating a moist cool air current to reduce the temperature.  If temperatures become too high in the hive even for this, bees will come and sit outside the hive to cool off.  They also come out of the hive if they feel claustrophobic.

 

The difference in honey production

 

Not all honey is the same and it is worth knowing what you are buying.  Rather than allowing bees to forage for themselves, large scale honey producers usually feed their bees a sugar substitute which means that the honey you buy in this case, is really only sugar that has passed through the bee and offers no health-giving property at all – and no specific flavour.  The difference between this honey and naturally produced is reflective in the price.  You may also find that some commercial beekeepers will kill of their hives rather than keep them through winter as the price of keeping a hive alive through winter affects their profit margin.  Since there can be anywhere between 30-70,000 bees in a standard hive, this is a shocking number of bees to be deliberately killed.  The commercial suppliers then buy in bees from a bee supplier to start again in the spring.

A good reason to buy honey from producers who look after their bees and care for the environment is  a marked difference in the taste of the honey.  From our own experience, the same hive of bees in the same season (two yields) makes a very different taste of honey depending on where they have been foraging and on what flowers.  Bees are very curious creatures that travel within a 3-mile radius of their hive to scout and forage and sometimes the taste of what has been their favoured plant is very evident.

Children in our street have planted blue flowers for our bees and we get excited WhatsApp photo messages when bees are found collecting the nectar from them.  They also put low plates of water out for the bees which are filled with small stones for the bees to land on as bees are very thirsty creatures but can drown.  On a hot day, you may find bees on your washing line sucking moisture from the laundry,  just leave them and they will fly away when they have had enough.

As well as being delicious, for those who suffer seasonal pollen allergies, the benefit of natural honey produced close to the sufferer’s home is said to alleviate symptoms.  This is because there will be a trace amount of pollen in the honey which can help build up a resistance.  The sufferer should think about building up the resistance before the pollen is released in the air in order to get the best result which means eating last year’s yield.

Do not be afraid

Unlike wasps, bees only sting to defend the hive or themselves.  When a bee stings, it cannot pull its stinger back out which results in catastrophic damage to its body and death.  So, if a bee encroaches on your space – it is only curious or thirsty.  Please resist the urge to swat it away which only serves to make it feel attacked and likely to sting.  Just let it be and it will leave.

For the love of bees

Bees are essential for our natural world, but numbers are dropping at a terrifying rate.  Please lets respect our bees, look after their habitat, and buy local honey from reputable beekeepers. If you have any questions regarding bees, local producers, please visit British Beekeepers Association (bbka.org.uk).

Do you know:

  • There are live enzymes in honey
  • When in contact with a metal spoon, these enzymes die
  • The best way to eat honey is with a wooden or plastic spoon
  • Honey contains a substance that helps your brain work better
  • Honey is one of the rare foods on Earth that alone can sustain human life
  • One teaspoon of honey is enough to sustain human life for 24 hours
  • Propolis, produced by bees, is one of the most powerful natural antibiotics
  • Honey has no expiration date
  • The bodies of great emperors were buried in golden coffins and covered with honey to prevent putrefaction
  • The term ‘honeymoon’ comes from the tradition of newlyweds consuming honey for fertility after the wedding
  • A bee lives less than 40 days, visits at least 1,000 flowers, and produces less than a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime
  • One of the first coins had a bee symbol on it.

 

Allergies are a common condition where the immune system reacts to substances that are usually harmless to most people. These substances, known as allergens, can trigger symptoms that can be debilitating.  If you suffer with allergies, we can help with our range of homeopathic histamines and naturopathic practices.

 

If you want to know more or book an initial assessment, talk to our Care Team – 0330 223 6553 or email careteam@optimal-healthgroup.com

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