What Bees Need to Survive: Nectar
Over winter, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how my bees are faring in their hives. It’s tempting to open up the door and see what’s happening, but of course this is a major blunder on behalf of a beekeeper; as we have learnt, opening the hive can let the cold in and cause your bees to freeze. With this in mind it’s always best to wait until the warm days have settled in and your bees are starting to buzz around the hive. Then you can be assured that your colony is ready for you to check in and see how they have fared over the colder months.
This has led to me researching different supplements that can help our tiny friends when they need it most. I already have some tricks up my sleeve when it comes to feeding bees over winter;I recommend that keepers use carbohydrate and protein supplements such as Benny’s Bee Fondant and Pollen Supplement when natural flower supplies are low or dearth conditions hit. But before we go into that, let’s do some basic examination of the substances that bees collect that ensure their survival. Aside from water and propolis (exudate gathered from tree buds), the two major substances bees require are nectar and pollen.
Firstly, let’s take a look at nectar, a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants that plays a vital role is the evolution of nectar eating species such as the honey bee. This substance can be produced by plants in two different ways: in glands called nectaries within the flowers with which it attracts pollinating animals; or by extrafloral nectaries outside of the flowers that provide a nutrient which the adult bees convert into honey and store in beeswax cells. Common nectar-consuming pollinators include bees of course, but mosquitoes, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and bats also consume this substance. For bees in particular, nectar is collected from blossoms in the field and stored in honey sacs on the side of their bodies. Nectar at this stage has a high sucrose sugar content with some laevulose and dextrose and a high moisture content, with traces of other substances such as minerals, vitamins, pigments, aromatic substances, organic acids and nitrogen compounds. All these goodies make it the perfect food for bees, which they later convert to honey in a series of steps. Honey is not only delicious to humans; more importantly it forms the colony’s major carbohydrate or energy source, consumed by the colony to maintain brood temperatures, to enable workers to fly and for any activity by any individual bee requiring energy when fresh nectar is not available. Without this honey, that comes from the collected nectar, the colony would starve and bees would be extinct!
This necessity for nectar is a very good reason to plant a bee-friendly garden and boycott chemically treated crops by buying organic produce. The more we help the bees find the food they need, the more they can help us pollinate the crops we rely on for survival.