Honeybees are just one of the 275 different bee species that we revere and love in the UK. It is the only UK species of bee that makes honey as we know it and it is ‘farmed’ by hobby beekeepers and commercial beekeepers for a number of high value and hugely cherished products. First the honey; that golden nectar that the bees make from flower nectar, flower essences and many other medicinal components that they forage for in and around our gardens.
But the honey is their winter food. They spend all summer collecting the nectar, processing it into honey and then storing it inside amazing hexagonal cells made out of bees wax. By the time the weather draws in and winter arrives a healthy honeybee colony should have enough stores to last it through winter and into spring. The honey that they make is more than their food. It is their medicine and fires their whole essence. It contains everything that they need to be healthy.
Honeybees visit two million flowers and fly 50 000 miles to produce
one pound of the amber nectar. It takes twelve honeybees to make a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. That’s their winter food you are eating.
Honey is a miraculous creation. It doesn’t go off and has very powerful healing powers. Instead of pouring it over our cereal or spreading it thickly on toast, we should regard it as a medicine and use it respectfully.
Honeybees also make beeswax, which they use to build comb not just for storing honey, but also to house their larvae as they grow from egg to bee. The wax is secreted between scales on their body and then used to build extraordinary sheets of perfect comb. Honeybees also make propolis from tree resin and other plant ingredients. They use it to plug gaps around their hive; beekeepers call it bee glue, but it is also highly revered for its medicinal qualities.
Honeybees are an enigma and rightly revered, but keeping honeybees will not save the bees. If you want to help all the bees, then stop using pesticides in your garden, garden organically, respect the soil and grow lots more plants with open access flowers and copious amounts of nectar and pollen.
Winter Active Honeybees
On mild or sunny days when the ambient temperature is around 7C an overwintering colony of honeybees may send foragers out into the garden. Look out for them feeding on your winter flowering shrubs and early flowering plants. A starving colony may need extra supplies, especially if the beekeeper has taken a huge proportion of their winter stores and replaced it with sugar. Look out for the honeybees in your winter garden, you may hear them before you see them feeding on your snowdrops, or on your winter mahonia.