Protein Packed Pollen

honey bee collecting pollen from asparagus flower

If its not to make honey, then what is the pollen being collected for?

It is the bees’ source of protein. In a year, a colony needs to collect and eat about 45 kilos of pollen. No single pollen delivers the full protein requirement, so bees collect pollen from many different sources.

When stored in the comb, it is possible (to someone more experienced than us) to identify the flowers from which the pollen was collected, by looking at the colour.

Back at the hive, the pollen is mixed with salivary products and small quantities of honey, and then stored in antiseptic cells adjacent to the empty brood cells that await the new generation. There it undergoes a chemical change becoming what is referred to as ‘bee bread’. This bee bread is also the principle food of adult nurse bees. Once she has ingested it, her digestive enzymes transform the nutritional supplement into a type of ‘mother’s milk’ which is then fed to the infant bee larvae.

  • most pollen is used as food for the larvae
  • pollen is the male reproductive spore of the plant
  • the baskets on the back legs are called corbiculae

honey bee, with full pollen baskets, on asparagus flower

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Bee Forage : June

Would madam prefer nectar – the sweet, sugary fluid provided by the bramble flower? Also, the drink of the gods.

What’s on the menu this month? Forage is the term that we beekeepers use for the food sources available to bees. The reference books talk about the June Gap – a time when one mass food source has finished and another not yet begun. Its true that the oilseed rape has long since lost its bright yellow plumage and the sunflowers are nowhere near flowering. I am keen to find out what the bees are feasting on – not least so that we can perhaps plant more of their favourites for next year.

So far, I have seen plenty of activity around the lavender, honeysuckle and blackberry flowers. And then my attention was drawn to the asparagus bed. We stopped harvesting the asparagus about 4 weeks ago and it is now a mass of ferny foliage. And heavy buzzing. Its full of bees, all sporting bright orange pollen sacs on their back legs. The bees over at the bramble patch don’t have this. Time to delve into the reference books – here’s some pertinent foraging facts…

  • honey bees collect both nectar and pollen from flowers
  • only the nectar is used to make honey
  • they only collect one or the other on a trip
  • the nectar is transported in the stomach
  • this stomach is separate from the digestive stomach, although the bee can open a valve between the two if she is hungry
  • nectar is mostly water with dissolved sugar – the sugar content being between 25% and 50%
  • honey bees will collect nectar as far as 14 kms away from their hive
  • after visiting between 150 and 1500 flowers, the nectar stomach is full and almost equal to her starting weight

    Or perhaps, madam is partial to the nitrogen rich, protein packed pollen as found in these asparagus flowers?

    Phwoar

    birds do it, bees do it…
    ~ Spotted Asparagus Beetles ~