It's spring! Our bees are waking up. And out they come, like post-hibernating bears, hungry for food.
But in early spring there is not a lot to eat. Bees need nectar, for carbohydrates, and pollen for protein, amino acids, lipids and minerals. So, hungry bees, but no food! Early spring is called the dearth period of pollen, not quite death but close.
And add to this, the hive is beginning to increase in size. The queen is up and laying eggs. The eggs turn into brood or baby bees, and the nurse bees feed these brood. And what do they feed the brood on?
The Australian Beekeeping Manual has this to say:
Nursery bees eat pollen in the form of bee bread and convert it in the hypopharyngeal gland in their head into royal jelly. The royal jelly is then fed to larvae and, in this way, they obtain the protein they need to grow into healthy bees.
This is a superb book, by the way, full of pictures and diagrams. Its by Robert Owen.
But, back to the pollen - no pollen in early spring and no bee babies.
Luckily we do have an excellent plant that produces pollen that the bees love, and it grows anywhere, and at the right time. Unluckily, it's a invasive introduced species and defined as a pest plant, by at least some regional councils. Gorse Ulex europaeus. But you know this from the heading.
We've got a whole paddock or 2 of gorse flowering right by the beehives, that in past pre-bee years has been vigorously chopped back. So pretty too. But when I took this picture I could not see a single bee on any of the bushes, although now looking back at the photos, I'm wondering if the flowers weren't quite open yet.
When a forager goes out, she is either on nectar patrol or pollen patrol. And when on pollen patrol she "practises flower fidelity, and only collects one type of pollen during a flight, flying from flower to flower of the same type of plant or trees. The foraging worker will become covered in pollen at the flower and uses her front and middle legs to clean her body of pollen and to store it on her specially adapted hairs on her back legs.
While she is in the field the foraging bee mixes the collected pollen with honey stored in her crop for this purpose. This mixture forms a sticky paste that will attach itself more easily to her hind legs." More from the Australian Beekeeping Manual.
We've all seen bees with their pollen pellets attached to their back legs as they fly back home. Taking food back for the babies.
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