People are always asking “How are the bees?” Well, there is always some problem, the unseasonable weather, the varroa mite, they are running out of winter stores, insecticides etc. However, they have been around for the last 60 million or 30 million years, according to which book you happen to be reading and they have an amazing ability to survive.
Here in Sunbury they have thrived for the 12 years I have been keeping bees. There is plenty of forage for them, the apple, pear, cherry trees in spring, then the lime trees, sweet chestnut take over. August can be a rather sparse month, depending on when the blackberries flower, before the autumn flowers of sedum, rudbekia, the open type of chrysanthemum all come out. Ivy is the final food source of the year for the bees.
The primary role of the honeybee is, of course, pollination and they have developed accordingly. Bees are welcomed on allotment sites because of the improved yield of fruit and beans. Neighbours tell me that their apple and pear crops have greatly improved since I have kept bees.
Unlike wasps and bumblebees, where only the queen overwinters, the whole colony of honeybees, numbering some ten thousand, live through the cold dark days of winter. Therefore, they need honey to consume to generate heat to keep the temperature of their bodies above 8 degrees C or they will die. The honeybees’ instinct is to collect as much nectar as possible in spring and summer in order to survive through the winter and in doing so pollinate the plants. The other benefit to us, is that the surplus honey can be harvested for our breakfast tables.
The other question frequently asked is ‘how can I help the bees?’ There are basically two things. The first is to grow bee friendly plants and shrubs, particularly those that flower early in the year and in late summer, early autumn. Secondly, if you use insecticides, or pesticides in your garden please use them carefully and sparingly. The full effects of these chemicals are not fully understood as the current arguments taking place within the EU testify. A colony of bees can be destroyed within an afternoon when they inadvertently bring poison into their home.
Enjoy watching the bees in your garden as they go about their important work. They are all part of life’s rich tapestry.