A Tisket A Tasket…Bees Have A Pollen Basket

Square goldenrodIt’s been really dry here in the NC Foothills. In fact, we live in one of the two driest counties in our state. This puts the bees around here in a tough spot. When the weather is dry, flowers don’t bloom. When flowers don’t bloom, there’s no nectar or pollen for the bees. No nectar or pollen means no food. The struggle is real!  Finally after weeks of no rain, we had a few showers, and goldenrod is blooming!!! Yes, I have reached a point that I am excited to know that weeds are in bloom. If you’re allergic, this probably doesn’t sound like good news, but for beekeepers, it’s pretty awesome.

Since their birth, I have been on an endless pursuit to capture the perfect pictures of our children’s milestones. Birthdays, first days of school, riding their bikes, family vacation. I live to document each of these precious moments. Thousands of photos, carefully preserving each detail of our lives. The little beekeepers here hate this! Someday they willCropped two colors of pollen thank me, I feel certain, for this painstaking endeavor. So I push on, asking for one more smile. Dare I say they dread to see me with the camera? But the bees…they don’t mind at all!! The cool thing about bee photography is that you get clues as to what is happening inside the hive. For instance during my recent Sunday afternoon photo shoot, I saw three distinctly different colors of pollen being taken in the hive. Pollen ranged from bright orange to yellow to pale green, letting us know that the bees are foraging from at least three different types of plants.

IMG_3501Pollen is important to the bees. They make a special mixture of pollen and nectar to feed their babies. Healthy hives raise thousands of babies each year, and that requires a whole lot of pollen. Pollen grains are pretty small, so bees have to visit lots and lots of flowers to get enough pollen to feed each baby bee. (And I think I have it rough trying to make sure we always have milk in the fridge for just three kids!) A worker bee can fly about 500 miles in her lifetime. If she had to make a separate trip for each grain of pollen, that would use up a lot of her flight miles pretty quickly, but thankfully, bees are equipped with pollen baskets. This is a dented, spot on her leg with lots of long, coarse hairs. (Perhaps you know some human legs like that too? I don’t of course, but you might.) She places the pollen there and mixes it with a little nectar so she can efficiently gather as much pollen as possible before making a flight back to the hive to unload. As the bees visit each blossom, they pollinate the flowers as a fringe benefit.

Close up goldenrodAside from making you sneeze, pollen is packed with protein and fats for the bees’ diets.  Worker bees carrying pollen take it inside the hive and off load in into empty cells in the honeycomb for storage. (Somehow a honeybee knows to do this by instinct, but no matter how many times I mention it, I still can’t get my kids to take their shoes to their rooms. What am I doing wrong?) So local honey contains bits of pollen from the plants that bloom in your area and has been found to help relieve allergy symptoms for sufferers. It has to be LOCAL though, because the bees in other areas don’t visit the same plants that you have a reaction to. So shop local for your honey, and if you see my husband, tell him I need a macro lens for my camera!

Y’all Bee Sweet!