The Bird and the Bees

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We thought you might like to know a bit more about the bees that produce our amazing honey. We're hoping to share some of the work that goes into producing each jar but today we'll start with how the hive works. So it's over to Vicky to tell you all about 'The Bird and the Bees'!

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Plunging my hands into a nest of thousands of venomous insects was never really on my list of things to do but when my son disappeared off to university somebody had to take over the care of his colony of bees and the task fell on my shoulders. With the help of my great mentor Keith Dobson (the farmshop's original honey supplier) I have been sucked into a world involving the secret life of bees!

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There are many varieties of bees, some are solitary and others live together in a colony. The honeybees, Apis Mellifera live and work together and each bee has a specific task within the hive. Together they work to provide a strong colony which will eventually swarm to create a new colony elsewhere. The majority of the colony is female and consists of:- THE QUEEN raised to be a queen by being fed Royal Jelly as a larva and having a specially constructed cell to accommodate her larger size. With her long abdomen (the equivalent of childbearing hips) her sole purpose in the colony is to populate it. After an initial mating flight the queen will spend all her time popping out eggs, one in each cell throughout the spring and summer months with a brief respite through the winter. The queen can live for as long as three years.

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(The Queen is marked with a green dot in the above image).

THE WORKER as the name suggests is responsible for all the tasks from building, cleaning, foraging and feeding. Workers are all female and throughout their lives their tasks change. On emergence from her cell she will clean up after herself and over the next few days will spend her time cleaning out cells and polishing them for the Queen to lay an egg in. Aged 4 or 5 days she begins feeding the brood until she is 10-12 days old when she will begin to produce wax and become a construction worker. She may also leave the hive around this time and she will fly for the first time initially just around the hives entrance but gradually going further and further afield. This will also be the first time that she has been able to go to the toilet! She will continue to stay in or around the hive taking the food from the foragers and storing it in the combs. She will also have the role of undertaker removing any dead bees from the colony. When she is about 3-4 weeks old she will embark on her foraging career she will pay particular attention to the returning bees and watch them ‘dance’ instructions as to where the really good food is. It may take her several days until she has learnt the dance but from then on she will become a fully fledged forager harvesting pollen and nectar along with water. For the next two weeks she will continue to do this on a daily basis until alas she can do no more and dies around five or six weeks old. A worker can live for five to six months if she is born in the autumn as she will overwinter in the hive and with a lot less work to be done throughout the winter her life is prolonged.

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THE DRONE is the male bee. He comes from an unfertilised egg that the queen decides to lay. He is bigger than a worker but not quite as big as the queen and he does not have a sting. He has no pollen sacs or wax glands however this doesn’t really matter to him as he has no intention of working as his sole purpose in life is to fertilise a Virgin Queen. If he gets to do this it ultimately leads to his death as his crown jewels are ripped from him remaining in the queen during the mating process which I would imagine hurts somewhat. If he doesn’t get to end his life with passion then he resides within the hive living the life of Riley. He is kept fed and warm by the workers and goes out only in search of a queen then comes back for his tea. Ultimately he has to pay a price for being looked after so well as the colony will drive out all the drones in the autumn. As he cannot fend for himself he ends up either starving to death or dying from exposure.

On the subject of dying bees I am sure that you are aware that the bees are not having a great time at the moment with unexplained deaths throughout the world. You can help, if you are interested in becoming a beekeeper you can find more information at Leeds Beekeepers Association. Alternatively you can help the bees by planting bee and insect friendly plants in your garden. If you need any advice with this call into our nursery and we will be happy to help.