So, why are honey bees such important pollinators?
From an ecological point of view there are at least 3 reasons:
Honeybees have evolved in tandem with certain flowers and they have adapted to facilitate each other;
One bee is able to rapidly communicate the location of a pollen/nectar source to the whole hive and an army sets out;
The bees then concentrate faithfully on that flower species until the pollen runs out or the nectar dries up, at which point the job of pollination is accomplished.
These features obviously make the honey bee important from an agricultural/commercial point of view. In addition, hives of bees are mobile and can be moved from crop to crop – an arrangement which can suit bees, farmers and beekeepers so long as everyone has a bit of respect. Wouldn’t that be great?
Certain species of Poplar are a valuable source of propolis for honey bees. The spring catkins may be visited for pollen and the spores of a parasitic rust fungus may be an alternative protein source in times when pollen is in short supply.
Poplars are a complex, wind-pollinated, pioneer tree species and they interbreed like mad; as a result they can be difficult to identify. There are many species world wide and several native to Europe. In addition, fast growing hybrid cultivars have been bred and these are much planted for timber. There is also interest in the fast growing varieties for short rotation coppice as a biomass crop.
One of my apiary sites is in a nature reserve on a small raised bog in Kildare. The clover and blackberry are in full bloom all around the fringes there so I expected to find the bees with brown or grey pollen loads. However, I was surprised to find them bringing in a lot of vivid orange pollen and no, that’s not propolis. Of course I’d come out without my camera so had to make do with my phone and these pictures don’t do the colour justice. Click photos to enlarge. Continue reading Poplar leaf rust spores?→
It’s amazing that the ivy came into bloom in early August this year and it is still flowering and the bees are working it 3 months later!
Admittedly the earliest flowering ivy was a few miles downhill from here and we are on up on the north face of a chilly hill where most things are late, however – it’s still quite a spread you must admit.
Every warm day now, the bees are all over it gathering pollen and whatever nectar there may be. Spot the bee – click on the photo below for a better view.
Some of the flowers in this picture were pollinated some time ago and you can see the berries developing, russet now but black later. Some are still in full bloom and others are only buds. These last will almost certainly not open at all.
‘Why would you want to?’ says you. Well the news on the streets is that it’s only a matter of time before it will be announced that research into the health benefits of ivy honey has discovered it to be the best thing since Manuka – I’m serious. Click here for more about ivy honey.
However, taking a crop of ivy honey is problematic for several reasons:
It sets in the comb even more quickly than rape honey so is difficult to extract;
It is the last honey flow of the season and the bees build up on it and rely on it for their winter stores;
By the time you take it off it could be too late to feed before winter sets in.
There was a great flow this May (2014) and there is a heavy crop of hawthorn honey on board – a once in 5 year occurrence in these parts. Hawthorn pollen is a pale cream colour but you’ll know if you’ve got hawthorn honey because you will smell it!
Here’s a photo of a hawthorn bee with pollen, click it for a better view
When there is this much honey from an early flow it’s best to take at least some of it off if only to spare the beekeeper’s back. Take only the sealed honey if possible, that way you’ll leave some for the bees in the June gap.
If, however, you suspect there may be rape in amongst it – you have no choice – you will have to take the lot off. If they have no feed below you should rapid feed a gallon or so of strong syrup but take the supers off first or they’ll put it in there.
Alternatively you could place a lump of fondant or better still Ambrosia (special bee fondant made with inverted sugar) over the feed hole. They won’t put this in the supers but if they need it – it’s there and it will also pull the bees straight up in to the supers which might help prevent overcrowding → swarming etc.