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Honey Bees in the Garden

The common honey bee that we see in our gardens today are actually the ancestors of the European honey bee. Many of our crops originated in the Old World and evolved with honey bees as their natural pollinators, so we need to provide them to pollinate these fruits and vegetables today.

All fruit and seed crops in the garden must be pollinated to produce fruit. In fact, for tree fruits, bee hives are transported by farmers from orchard to orchard when trees are in flower to improve the pollination of these trees. In fact, some commercial bee companies will transport their hives 1000s of miles each season, going from one geographic area to another as the blooming season progresses.

Worker honey beeThe relationship between flowers and bees has been going on for millions of years and, not too surprisingly, has developed many interesting specialized relationships.

Worker bees have learned to communicate their floral findings to other worker bees back at the hive. Upon returning to the hive, a worker bee that has found an area with many flowers producing much nectar performs a dance on the comb that tells other bees how to get there. The orientation of movements and frequency of vibrations indicate the direction and distance of the flowers from the hive. Thus other bees, observing this dance, will know where to find this wonderful source of food.

While foraging for nectar and pollen, honey bees transfer the pollen from the male portion of the flower to the female flower components. Each year, bees pollinate 95 crops worth an estimated $10 billion in America alone. All told, insect pollinators contribute to the production of 1/3 of the world's diet.

Honey bee at work

Some Honeybee Factoids

  • In the course of her lifetime, a worker bee will process 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.

  • Bees do not actually create honey. They process nectar. Honey is nectar collected by bees on their many trips to flowers and then repeatedly regurgitated and dehydrated the nectar to create what we call honey.

  • Bees aren't the fastest fliers in the world. Their wings beat over 11,000 cycles per minute, but their ground speed is only about 15 mph.

  • Bees possess five eyes. The three ocelli are simple eyes that discern light intensity, while each of the two large compound eyes contains about 6,900 facets and is well suited for detecting movement. In fact, honeybees can perceive movements that are separated by 1/300th of a second. Humans can only sense movements separated by 1/50th of a second. Were a bee to enter a cinema, it would be able to differentiate each individual movie frame being projected.

  • Bees can't see red.

  • Unlike the stingers in wasps, a honeybee's stinger is barbed. Once the stinger punctures the skin, an attached venom pouch pumps a liquid mixture containing melittin, histamine, and other enzymes into the victim. As the bee pulls away, the barbed stinger remains in the victim's skin. The bee soon dies due to abdominal rupture. When a honeybee stings other insects, she does not leave her stinger planted in the invader. As she retreats from the insect victim, her barbed stinger tears through the insect's exoskeleton.

  • One pound of honey requires hive workers to fly about 55,000 miles and visit 2,000,000 flowers.

  • In a single collection trip, a worker bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers. She will return to the hive carrying over 1/2 her weight in pollen and nectar.

  • A productive hive can make and store about 2 pounds of honey per day and 35 pounds of honey provides enough energy for a small colony to survive an entire winter.

  • While foraging for nectar and pollen, bees inadvertently transfer pollen from the male to the female components of flowers. Each year, bees pollinate 95 crops worth an estimated $10 billion in the U.S. alone. All told, insect pollinators contribute to 1/3 of the world's diet.

  • Most researchers believe the honeybee originated in Africa. The first European colonists introduced Apis mellifera, the common honeybee, to the Americas. Native Americans referred to the bees as "White Man's Fly." Today honeybees can be found all over the world.

  • There is only one queen in a hive and her main purpose is to make more bees.  She can lay over 1,500 eggs per day and will live 2 — 8 years.  She is larger and has a longer abdomen than worker bees or drones.  She has chewing mouthparts.  Her stinger is curved with no barbs on it and she can use it repeatedly.

  • Drones, which are males, have no stingers.  They live about 8 weeks and only a few hundred are present in the hive.  Their function is to mate with a new queen, if one is produced in a given year. Any drones left at the end of the season are considered non-essential and will be driven out of the hive to die.

  • Worker bees do all the different tasks needed to maintain and operate the hive. They make up the majority of the hive's occupants. All worker bees are sterile females. When young these bees are called house bees and work in the hive doing honey comb construction, brood rearing, tending to the queen and drones, cleaning house, regulating the hive's temperature and defending the hive from outside attack. Older workers are called field bees. They forage to gather nectar, pollen, water and some sticky plant resins used in hive construction.  Workers born early in the season will live about 6 weeks. Those born in the fall will live until the following spring.

Read also: Killer Bees