A good supply of pollen is essential to a honeybee colony because…
… despite its complexity, bees cannot live on honey alone. While the sugars in honey supply their energy needs, in addition they require protein, minerals and trace elements. Pollen is the source of these but like all things dietary – bees need variety as well as quantity.
Towards the end of the season you will probably have observed bright green pollen loads coming in – like this. Please excuse poor photo.
If you ask your local beekeeper, he or she is likely to tell you that it is meadowsweet. However, if you doggedly search the drifts of meadowsweet in your locale for a bee with full pollen baskets, you will see that the pollen they are carrying is actually a creamy yellow. See photo below:
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.