Reasons to 'bee' cheerful this spring!
The cold, the rain, the wind, and the sleet that we’re experiencing at the moment may make it feel as if winter will never end, but there are definite signs that spring is on the way. Although not officially due to start until Friday 20th March, snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses, narcissus and tree blossom are already in full bloom around the UK.
This means that it’s almost time for the reappearance of a very welcome garden visitor! The return of spring sees honey bees venturing out of their hives for their first foraging trips of the year.
They’re looking to replenish the honey stocks that they stored last autumn and which kept them alive during the cold season. The queen’s eggs have also hatched so, as the new brood grows, there are lots of hungry mouths to feed. When the weather is warm enough, the worker bees emerge, looking for all-important pollen and nectar to bring back to their colony.
Honey bees are incredible insects (and ones that our beeswax food wraps couldn’t do without!) so let’s find out some more about them. Here are just a few brilliantly buzzworthy facts about our favourite fuzzy friends!
- Honey bee hives are made up of three types of bee, with a distinct hierarchy: the queen, thousands of female worker bees and hundreds of seasonal male drone bees.
- Female bees do all the work: male bees have no role other than to fertilise the queen during the summer months. At the start of autumn, when she’s laid her eggs, the drones have no further use in the hive and are sent packing!
- The bees don’t hibernate over winter but they cluster together inside the hive, staying warm through their collective body heat. Every now and again they shift position, taking it in turns to feel the chill on the outside of the group.
- A hive needs to store around 20 to 30lbs of honey to keep them alive over an average winter, although they will generally produce much more than this. Beekeepers collect the surplus, which is what we then get to taste on our toast or in our porridge.
- Worker honey bees generally collect pollen and nectar in an approximate one-mile radius from their hive. However, they can fly up to five miles at a time, if necessary.
- On the way out of the hive, on the lookout for flowers, worker bees can fly at a top speed of approximately 15mph. It’s no surprise that on the return journey, laden with goodies, their flying speed is slightly slower.
- Bee eyes can distinguish lots of colours, particularly towards the blue/ultra-violet end of the spectrum. Flowers reflect a lot of UV light, and bees see them as extremely bright. Strangely, bees are blind to the colour red!
- The worker bees have 170 odorant receptors. They use them to communicate when they’re in the hive, and to identify flower types when they’re on the hunt for nectar.
- Raw honey, properly stored can last indefinitely. A pot was once found in an ancient Egyptian tomb that was still completely edible! The secret is in the bees’ special mix: sucrose from nectar plus their stomach enzymes, which creates hydrogen peroxide, making honey long-lasting through its antibacterial properties.
- Honey has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s particularly efficient at wound healing due to its ability to destroy bacteria, and by creating a moist environment in which the skin can repair itself. It was used extensively in World War I to treat soldiers’ injuries.
- Once they’ve produced it, bees store the honey in beeswax honeycombs, sealed over with more wax, where it can stay until they need it.
- The type of honey made depends on the flowers the bees have had access to. Garden flowers create a clear, runny honey. Oil seed rape nectar yields a much harder, set honey.
- Beeswax is, obviously, one of our favourite things! 100% pure and natural, it’s an excellent ingredient for eco-friendly skincare and household products (particularly as an alternative to chemical-infused furniture polish). We definitely couldn’t do without it for our beeswax food wraps!
- Young bees produce beeswax: they group together in order to raise their body temperatures and then secrete it out of glands underneath their abdomens. Other worker bees then take the wax to where it’s needed in the hive.
- If there are any gaps in their beeswax structures, the bees seal it using sticky propolis (also called bee glue). They make this by mixing saliva, beeswax and exudate, which is secreted by plants.
- Propolis is also medicinal: it can regenerate damaged tissue and is extremely effective at helping promote a resilient immune system.
- Beeswax is waterproof, antibacterial and anti-fungal. It’s also completely non-toxic so, although you’re not going to want it for dinner, it’s not a problem if you swallow some. Which you may well do if you use lip balm, as many are made from it.
- Beeswax is also moisturising so it’s great for dry skin and hair.
Bee more informed
How clever are honey bees?! These fascinating facts are only a brief insight into the amazing things they are capable of, however. To read more about them, and to find out how you can create a bee-friendly garden, take a look at the website of the British Beekeepers Association.
And to discover why our beeswax food wraps are helping to reduce single-use plastic waste, take a look here!