Over the course of the last few years, the health of the UK honey bee population has been a subject of real concern. Poor weather, the loss of habitat, the destruction of bee colonies by the parasitic varroa mite and the continual uncertainty regarding the impact of pesticides have all affected the honey bee.
But why does this matter, and why are bees so important in nature?
Perhaps the most important reason is because bees are pollinators that are absolutely vital to our food chain. One third of the food we eat would not be available to us, were it not for pollinators, of which honey bees are the most prolific. In the UK, about 70 crops rely on, or benefit from pollination.
Although there are thousands of different, important types of pollinators in the insect world, the honey bee is unique in providing us with honey and products of the hive. It is the only managed insect on earth and as such is vital to our food chain, and quite possibly our wider health on this planet.
How to help the honey bee
Whatever the size of your garden, or window box, everyone can do their bit to help the honey bee by planting bee-friendly flowers and shrubs. Fruit trees, vegetables and herbs like rosemary, marjoram and thyme are great for the bees, as well as great for you too!
Other ways you can help:
- Avoid cutting back all ivy. It is one of the only sources of pollen for bees in the autumn so keeping some intact helps the bees stock up on food before the winter.
- Leave an area of your garden to grow wild – dandelions and forget-me-nots can look pretty and are a great source of nectar for bees, as well as other pollinators like butterflies.
- Eating more local honey and enjoying the taste of food that has travelled ‘bee’ miles not ‘air’ miles.
- Become an armchair beekeeper – Adopt A Beehive with the BBKA and support environmental and education projects to help the honey bee.
National Honey Week
National Honey Week is taking place this month, culminating in the National Honey Show on October 26th, so we’ve delved into our furry-friends’ honey-making process.
A honey bee will make on average about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime; plus about a million flowers will have been visited to make just one pound of honey. Bees make honey from nectar; they gather this sweet sticky substance from flowers and mix it with enzymes in their stomachs, storing it in the wax, hexagonal honeycomb.
Honey bees are the only type of bee where the workers stay alive through winter. They huddle together in the hive to keep warm, and eat the honey which they have made over the summer months for energy.
In a good year, honey bees will make far more honey than they need for themselves. Beekeepers take any spare honey from the hive collected in frames, and cut off the wax so that the honey can be extracted. Good beekeepers will always make sure bees have more than enough honey left in the beehive, as this is their food and energy supply too.
Honey will taste different according to the flowers the bees have been feeding from, such as heather honey, and it can have different colours too. If the bees have been collecting honey from horse chestnut or conker trees, for example, this can produce a very dark coloured honey.
Honey bees can only fly out to gather nectar when it is warm enough, and not raining or too windy. So cold, wet and windy summers, a bit like this August, can cause real problems for bees as they aren’t able to make enough honey to see them through winter, and can starve if they don’t have sufficient supplies.
Adopt a Beehive
For people who want to learn more about beekeeping, or to help the honey bee in other ways, the BBKA has its “Adopt a Beehive“ scheme where members of the public can adopt a beehive from one of ten different regions in the UK.
It costs £36 to Adopt a Beehive for one year, and in exchange you receive a welcome box of bee-related goodies, as well as updates throughout the year from your beehive and beekeeper. All the profits from the scheme are ploughed into environmental and education projects to help save the honey bee, so you can help these vital pollinators this Honey Week without getting your hands sticky.