Zzzooom into the secret life of honeybees

November 24th, 2020

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The warmer weather brings more buzz to our garden. Cape honeybees are VIP residents at Babylonstoren, and are hard at work in our garden. And they’re not here just to make honey – this sweet deliciousness is an added bonus.

Honeybees play an integral role in the garden ecosystem by helping to pollinate myriads of fruits, vegetables and seeds. To a greater or lesser degree, most fruits and vegetables are dependent upon bees for pollination. In the absence of bees, some are unable to reproduce. Good harvests have a direct effect on farmers’ incomes and their ability to create jobs. If pollination does not take place, large portions of agriculture will come under pressure.

How does pollination work?

Bees take the nectar from one plant and basically says thank you by carrying the pollen to another plant. Pollination takes place when pollen produced by the male part of a flower (stamen) is transferred to the female part (style) of a flower on the same or a different plant to make fertilisation and procreation possible.

Why is the bee population under pressure?

Why is the bee population under pressure?

  • the use of insecticides and herbicides to get rid of plant pests;
  • loss of habitat – with increasing urbanisation, many of the plants required by bees are disappearing;
  • decreased food sources as a result of monoculture farming;
  • beehives are often vandalised when honey is taken from them;
  • drought conditions threaten bee food sources; and
  • as a result of globalisation, bees are threatened by more and more diseases and viruses.
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What can we do to help save bees?

  • Make sure you have bee-friendly plants in your garden. Candide is a gardening app that connects gardeners with a community of other plant lovers, and provides information on which flowering plants attract this friendly yellow-and-black creature. Learn more about Candide.
  • Use the app to see which weeds should rather stay put than being pulled up. Some weeds provide nectar and pollen to bees at the beginning of winter when other food sources might be scarce.
  • Refrain from using chemicals or poison in your garden.
  • Plant a variety of flowers so that bees will have access to flowering plants throughout the seasons.
  • Be kind to the small visitors in your garden. You can help prevent thirsty bees from drowning by adding marbles or pebbles to the birdbath where they come to quench their thirst. These marble or pebble islands help them to climb out of the water.
  • Support your local beekeepers, their bees and your environment by buying raw honey. Thanks to Babylonstoren’s rich plant life and hard-working bees, we are able to harvest this sweet wonder of nature on the farm as well as grow honey bush tea with its comforting honey aroma.

What can you do if a swarm of bees decide to come and nest in your garden?

Honeybee swarming is a natural phenomenon. Swarms sometimes form when an ageing hive is left behind or when a swarm breaks away to form a new colony. Should you come across a swarm in your garden, contact a local beekeeper or beekeepers’ association. Make sure that you choose the services of an environmentally friendly person or group who won’t destroy the swarm, but will take them to a safe new home.

Swarm bees are usually relaxed and not dangerous, but can become aggressive when they feel threatened or are disturbed (by, for example, a lawnmower, if you come to close to them or if they are sprayed with water). Leave them in peace and wait until help arrives.

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Bees in numbers

  • The bees in a colony fly almost 90 000 km and visit more than 2 million flowers to make around 500 g of honey.
  • A worker bee will produce only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during her lifetime.
  • A bee flies at an average speed of 24 km/h.
  • Bees flap their wings 200 times per second and this is the reason for the buzzing sound.
  • There are around 20 000 bee species on earth, but the honeybee is the best known.

What does the inside of a buzzing hive look like?

A colony of bees usually consists of 20 000 to 60 000 bees. The bees are not all the same; there are three kinds, of which only one is responsible for making honey.

  • The queen bee is the only female in the hive who can procreate. She mates with the male drones and then lays up to 2500 eggs per day for the rest of her life. She is the largest bee in the hive and lives five to six years.
  • Drones are strong, male bees without stingers and entirely harmless. Their one and only task is to fertilise the queen. If they are successful, they die after mating. They are not always welcome in the hive – during the winter months when food is scarce and worker bees are less active, they often eject drones from the hive so the food can go to the queen and larvae.
  • Worker bees are hard workers and also the smallest bees in the colony. All of them are female and they collect nectar, build the nest, and take care of the eggs and larvae. Their lifespan is five to six weeks. During the first few days of life, all larvae are fed royal jelly. Thereafter, most larvae are fed honey and pollen and eventually become worker bees. But some larvae are always fed royal jelly and these are the ones that eventually become queen bees. The first-born queen larva is the crown princess, who kills other “princess larvae” to eventually wear the crown.

Can bees talk to one another?

Worker bees have learnt to communicate the details of the flowers they have found to one another. They tell their coworkers where the closest source of nectar is by doing a special figure-eight dance that tells how far and in which direction the food source is located.

What colours do bees see?

Bees do not see colours the same way we do. While the human eye sees colours as a mix of blue, green and red, bees observe colour in terms of ultraviolet light, blue and green. They can’t see red and this is why bees are often seen on blue and yellow flowers, while birds tend to pollinate red flowers. The human eye cannot see ultraviolet light, but bees can see a variety of fantastic colours. Some flowers have patterns that are invisible to the human eye but act as signposts so bees will know which direction to go to find pollen and nectar.

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What are the health benefits of honey?

The golden liquid contains sucrose, dextrose and fructose, as well as antioxidants and amino acids. It has antibacterial qualities and can help to fight infection. Honey is often used as home remedy for coughing. This deliciously sweet syrup can be used as face mask and is said to make skin glow and reduce wrinkles.

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