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How Bees Make Wax – Understanding the Science Behind Beeswax

How Bees Make Wax

Honey bees live in self-manufactured, waxy combs that make up an entire hive. These hives serve as homes and repositories for their food supply (honey, nectar, and pollen) and eggs laid by their queen to produce the next generation of bees. The answer of how bees make wax was once a mystery until science unlocked the mechanics behind the process, revealing an alchemical transformation. This beneficial beeswax is used by bees, other animals, and humans as a food source, a financial tool, and in households and businesses around the world. 

What Is Beeswax?

Beeswax is a complex substance bees secrete to manufacture and repair combs. These waxy combs are a series of interlocking hexagonal shaped tubes composed of fatty acids, hydrocarbons, and proteins. The easiest way to explain beeswax is by saying that it's a secretion produced by worker bees. 

When new beeswax is developed, it's yellow in color. The reason for that is due to the presence of pollen. Then over time, it gets darker and becomes golden yellow. It will turn brown after contact with bees and propolis.

Beeswax remains solid throughout a wide temperature range. It becomes brittle when the temperature drops below 18 degrees Celsius and has a melting point at 64.5 degrees Celsius. That means that the honeycomb can withstand temperature fluctuations from one season to the other. That's important so that the honey bee colony can survive in the heat and the cold.

Why Do Bees Make Wax?

This is one of the aspects that beekeepers first learn. The production of wax is crucial to the vitality of a beehive. Many people assume that bees collect some type of material to build their nests, but they actually produce them!

How Bees Make Beeswax?

The process of how bees make wax is complex and depends on many factors. In a bee colony, there are three types of bees: the queen, the worker, and the drone. The queen mates and lays eggs. Drones are male bees whose sole function is to breed with the queen.

Finally, worker bees are sterile females who do everything, including taking care of and feeding the young, the queen, and the drones; producing wax to create and maintain the hive; cleaning the hive; gathering nectar and pollen; making honey and guarding the nest against enemies. Only young worker bees have wax glands. The oldest worker bees and the queen bee do not have wax glands.

Honeybees develop a special wax-producing gland in their abdomen when they are between 12 and 20 days old. This gland converts sugar into a waxy substance from the sugar and also deposits substance flakes on the abdomen.

Do All Bees Make Wax?

No, not all bees produce wax! Only worker bees do. Worker bees are female and are the only ones that have wax glands. 

The best wax producer are young adults, around 14 to 18 days old. But, older workers are able to produce wax when it's needed.

beeswax and beehive

Factors Necessary for Wax Production

The first step in how bees make wax can only begin when there is an adequate supply of honey in the bees’ colony. Worker bees must consume pollen during the first 5 to 6 days of their life because it contains a high amount of protein needed for the development of fat cells. Pollen is mixed with honey to create “bee bread” that worker bees feed the developing larvae.

Wax Gland Producing Stage

Then at about a week old, the emerging worker bee develops a unique wax-producing gland inside her abdomen. As the secretory activity increases in this wax gland, the cell walls become tall and slender and have large intercellular spaces. The wax glands are most productive in worker bees approximately 12 to 18 days old.

Nectar Gathering and Honey Conversion Stage

The third step in how bees make wax involves older worker bees leaving the hive to forage and collect nectar from flowers. Nectar is essentially just a sugary fluid flowers produce to entice bees to pollinate their species. The bees store the nectar in a special honey stomach different from their food stomach. Once the worker bee fills this sac, she flies back to the hive.

This foraging bee delivers the nectar to another worker bee through a mouth-to-mouth exchange process. During this process, the moisture content of the nectar is reduced from 70% to 20%. This changes the nectar into honey. Sometimes nectar is stored in the honeycomb cells before being passed mouth-to-mouth because the warm temperature inside the hive causes water content in the nectar to evaporate.

bee on top of white flower petal

The Production of Wax

The fourth step in how bees make wax requires young worker bees engaged in secreting wax to engorge themselves with honey. The wax gland, an organ located on the underside of the last four segments of their body, converts the sugar content of honey into tiny flakes or scales. The worker bees discharge these wax flakes through eight tiny slits from their underbelly. Other worker bees collect the discharged wax flakes, chew it until it becomes soft and malleable, and then mold it to construct new combs, repair existing combs, and cap the openings of cells.

Temperature Necessary to Work Wax

The right temperature in the hive is crucial in how bees make wax. It must be maintained at a steady temperature in order to manipulate wax and allow it to be at the right consistency for construction. This temperature is between 93 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit year round. This allows bees to work the wax easily.

If the temperature gets too high, the wax becomes too soft and will not hold its shape. If the temperature reaches 149 degrees Fahrenheit or more, the wax will melt. If the temperature gets too cold, the wax becomes brittle and breaks.

The End Cycle of Wax Production

After producing wax for several days, the worker bees’ wax glands begin to degenerate. By the time the worker bee becomes a field bee and is ready to leave the hive, the wax glands have totally degenerated. At this point, the worker bee is about 21 days of age. However, the emergence of the next generation of bees takes over and continues the function of producing wax.

This multilayered, time-consuming process is how bees make wax. It is estimated that bees must consume approximately 6 to 8 pounds of honey to manufacture just 1 pound of wax. A beehive contains about 10,000 to 60,000 bees. The greater the number of bees, the more effective the hive is at producing honey, and the more wax it can manufacture for the hive to grow and care for the bees.

beehives in honeycomb

How is Beeswax Used?

Beeswax is used by bees, humans, and other creatures in many ways.

How Bees Use Beeswax

Bees use the wax they produce to protect themselves against water loss and in the construction of combs and their overall hive.

How Humans Use Beeswax

For thousands of years, humans have used beeswax for a variety of purposes including body care products, food consumption, household uses, industrial manufacturing and many more.

Benefits to the Skin

In the cosmetic industry, beeswax is used as a non-toxic, natural protectant, hydrating, and thickening ingredient. It thickens creams and make-up, making them more spreadable and easier to use on the skin. Unlike petroleum-based products, beeswax does not suffocate the skin’s pores, allowing them to breathe and preventing clogged pores and acnes.

The following are Some of the Most Powerful Benefits of Beeswax:

  • Humectant: Beeswax attracts water. When beeswax is applied to the skin and lips, it attracts water molecules to that area. This helps to keep skin hydrated.
  • Protective: Beeswax forms a protective barrier against environmental forces by holding in moisture, reducing dryness, and providing temporary itch relief. It allows the skin to breathe while preventing forces such as wind or rain from stripping away the skin’s natural oil.
  • Vitamin A: Beeswax is high in vitamin A which stimulates skin cell production and is a necessary antioxidant for a healthy complexion.
  • Fragrance: Beeswax has a natural and pleasant honey scent, non-irritating to most people.

Beeswax as a Food Product or Ingredient

Beeswax assists with molding and locking in food flavors. It is used to make jelly beans, gummy bears, and similar candies. It can also be eaten in its natural honeycomb state in salads and as a sweet dessert.

Household Uses for Beeswax

Over time, people have come up with hundreds of uses for beeswax in everyday household chores. The following are some household uses:

  • Create candles that do not drip or give off toxic smoke
  • Lubricate old furniture joints, drawer rails, and other sliding surfaces
  • Polish furniture when mixed with linseed oil and mineral spirits
  • Coat the surface or strings of musical instruments
  • In art supplies such as egg painting and glass etching
  • Waterproof leather, saddles, bags, etc.
  • Polish for shoes and floors
a bowl of honey

Industrial Manufacturing Uses

Beeswax is a major commodity produced and sold by many countries. It is versatile and has over 300 industrial uses. Some top producers of beeswax are India, Ethiopia, Argentina, South Korea, Turkey, Kenya, Angola, Mexico, Tanzania, and Spain. Many of the uses of beeswax are in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Some of these industrial uses are:

  • Hair products
  • Body lotions and creams
  • Lip Balms
  • Medicine
  • Soaps
  • Ointments for joint aches and pain
  • Lubricants
  • check-circle
    The manufacture of electronic components
  • The manufacture of CDs
  • Modeling and casting of industrial parts
  • Modeling and casting in art
  • Polishes for shoes, furniture, and floors
  • As a stabilizer in military explosives
holding beehives

Beeswax Used by Other Animals

Honey badgers, bears, raccoons, possums, skunks, elephants, and many other animals eat the entire honeycomb, wax, honey, and all.

Conclusion

The process of how bees make wax is complex, intensive, and time-consuming. But this natural and powerful product has benefited bees, animals, and humans for thousands of years. It is important to ensure the health and wellbeing of bees by planting flowers and plants they feed on, monitoring the kinds of toxic chemicals used in their environments, and educating people about the tremendous impact they have upon the planet. Their work of collecting nectar and pollen ensures the survival of various plant species and feeds generations of humans, animals, and other insects.

Bees are amazing, diligent, and tireless creatures. Thanks to their two great products, honey, and beeswax, billions of Earth's inhabitants can enjoy their products as a food source and financial resource to better their lives.

How Do Bees Reproduce? A Sneak Peek Into Where and How the Magic Happens

Bees in their beehives

Discussions about human sexuality are sometimes referred to by the euphemism "the birds and the bees." This may sound like a cute and simplistic way of approaching a complex subject. But, the answer to how do bees reproduce is a dramatic story of life and death, of intricate mating patterns, and sophisticated gender determination.

How Do Bees Reproduce?

Bee reproduction is not only a complicated subject, but different species of bees have unique variations of the process. Honeybees follow similar breeding rituals whether they are living in hives of their own creation or in the hives of a beekeeper. The queen, drones, and worker bees all have unique roles to play in the process of conception, gestation, and birth. The life expectancy of each type of bee is determined by its role in the reproduction process and the ongoing life of the hive. Each role is a part of the mystery that answers the question of how do bees reproduce.

The Dramatic Mating Ritual

The Development of the Bees

The Role of the Queen Bee

Somewhere between the age of six and sixteen days, after emerging from the cell, the queen bee will make a mating flight. On this flight, she may encounter thousands of male bees or drones and actually will mate with anywhere from 10 to 20 of them. From this one mating flight episode, the queen will collect as many as 100 million sperms. Although she may live four or five years, this will be the only mating flight she makes. She will spend the rest of her life in the hive laying fertilized and unfertilized eggs.


The sperm is stored in the queen's oviduct. Eventually, the volume will be reduced to about five to six million sperm remaining in the spermatheca, where they will continue to fertilize a smaller number of eggs for as long as four or even five years. The young queen produces as many as 2000 eggs a day and will lay them in a highly organized pattern within the hive, placing a single egg in a cell of the honeycomb. As she ages, her production drops, and her laying pattern becomes more random. Each egg is approximately half the size of a grain of rice.

How the Queen Determines the Sex of Bees

Identifying the Queen

The Queen's Life Expectancy

The Work of the Drones

Drones can play a role in helping maintain the right temperature in the hive, but their primary mission is depositing their sperm in the sting chamber of the queen during the mating flight. If the queen's sting chamber is closed, the drone may ejaculate his sperm to no effect. If he is successful in placing his sperm in the chamber, he will experience a dramatic and sudden end of his life. 


The sperm moves so forcefully through the sting chamber into the oviduct of the queen bee that the intensity of this experience causes the drone's endophallus to rip off. It also rips open his stomach resulting in his immediate death. His role is essential to answer the question of how do bees reproduce

Drones Travel to Congregating Areas

Success Means Instant Death for the Drones

How the Worker Bees Help Reproduction

worker bees on the production

Image by PollyDot from Pixabay

The worker bees are female bees. They can lay eggs but these eggs will only produce drones or male bees. It is their job to provide the royal jelly that nourishes the eggs laid by the queen. Young worker bees serve as nurse bees in the hive, nourishing the larvae, and collecting honey from other worker bees whose primary job is foraging. As they age, their role includes cleaning out the cells after the larvae have developed into bees. They also move into the more physically demanding work of foraging.


Worker bees typically live six to seven weeks in the spring and summer months. Winter worker bees live slightly longer because they tend to have larger bodies and more reserve strength. In cold conditions, the worker bees help to maintain warmth in the hive to protect the queen. These same bees will expel drones from the hive before winter sets in to control the food demands in the hive.

Conclusion

bees production on bee farm

Image via Pexels

How do bees reproduce? The answer is a combination of amazing mating dynamics, unique and specific roles in the bee colony, and built-in intelligence that assures the continued growth and stability of the hive population.

Featured Image by PollyDot from Pixabay

How Long Do Bees Live? A Look At Their Life Span

How long do bees live? A few days, a few weeks? Even longer? Insects often have varying lifespans, so it is not always clear how long one lives, and this is no different for bees. Whether you’ve got a beehive in your back yard that you’re keeping an eye on, are doing research for a project, or just have some genuine curiosity about our bee friends, you’re in the right place. This article will cover everything from different types of bees and factors that can affect their lifespan to their main life stages. By the end, you should have all the buzz you need on bees and then some.

A Brief Look at Bees

In recent years, there has been some anxiety surrounding bees. Plain and simple, bees are an extremely important part of the world’s ecosystem. They’re so important, in fact, that the high rate of bee decline and their potential to become extinct in the near future could spell out disaster for all other life on earth. This is because bees – the honey bee specifically – are the world’s most important pollinators. Without them, humans and animals would not have any of the food we need to survive. These foods include:

  • Honey
  • Tree fruits – apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, lines, plums, lemons
  • Other fruits – bananas, melons, mangos, grapes
  • Berries – strawberries, blackberries, cranberries
  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Tea plants
  • Nuts – almonds, cashews, coconut
  • Seeds
  • Beans – green beans, lima beans, kidney beans
  • Vegetables – broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower
  • Chocolate
  • Sugarcane

With this in mind, we must know what is putting our bees at risk, how to help them, and what a normal, healthy lifespan looks like for these creatures.

Types of Bees

One answer to the “How long do bees live?” question is “It depends.” Certain factors can affect a bee’s lifespan like the type of bee it is. Different bees have different functions, which means one’s lifespan might differ from another’s depending upon what the bee does.

Honey Bee

Honey bees in thier hiveVia Pixabay

Honey bees are known as “superorganisms” due to their well-organized and highly efficient colonies. In fact, a honey bee colony can be made up of between 50,000-60,000 bees, all with their different roles to keep the hive running. There are several types of honey bee with different functions, and each may have a different lifespan. What’s more, the time of year a honey bee is born can also affect how long the bee lives. For example, worker bees born in the spring and summer usually have shorter but busier lives, while bees born in autumn have longer, albeit harsher, lives due to their having to endure the winter. Here’s a breakdown of each type of honey bee.

Queen Honey Bee

A healthy queen honey bee could live for 4 or 5 years, so long as she is free from disease and living in a safe environment. Since the queen is highly favored amongst the colony, she is always protected, which helps extend her lifespan even more. However, if a honey bee queen is no longer favored by the colony, she may be removed by the worker bees. When this happens, a new queen is produced, and the old queen is replaced in a process called “supersedure.”

Worker Bee

The lifespan of a worker honey bee is dependent on the season in which they are born. Worker bees born and raised during the spring or summer can live for 6-7 weeks. These weeks are usually incredibly busy as the workers are fitted with a variety of tasks. They have to feed larvae, produce honeycomb, collect nectar and pollen, and feed the colony at large.

Worker honey bees born and raised in the autumn, however, do not have to care for larvae since the queen stops producing eggs during this time. During the autumn and winter months, then, worker bees usually huddle around the queen to keep her warm. They stay this way until they are ready to emerge in the spring to begin foraging for food, nectar, and pollen. In total, worker bees born during the latter half the year can live between 4 and 6 months.

Drone Bee

Drone honey bees are known to live for up to 4 months. On the lower end of the lifespan, however, they can survive for just a few weeks. Drones are the bees responsible for mating with the queen to produce more eggs. After mating with the queen, drones immediately die.

Bumble Bee – Differences

Bumble bee on a white flowerVia Pixabay

It is important to note that bumblebees differ from honey bees in a few key ways: appearance, temperament, longevity, and nest/colony location. Let’s run through the differences:

Appearance

While honey bees are more slender, have little body hair, and have translucent wings, bumblebees are much larger and more “robust” in appearance. They have more hairs on their bodies, are usually colored yellow, orange, and black, and have thicker, darker wings. The tip of their abdomen is also rounded while the abdomen of a honey bee is pointed.

Temperament

While both honey bees and bumblebees are not overly aggressive, both will sting to defend themselves and their colony. The biggest difference is that a honey bee will sting only once (and usually die immediately after) while a bumblebee can sting multiple times; so watch out!

Longevity

While a honey bee queen can live for 4 or 5 years, that is not the case with bumblebee queens. These queens typically live for just one year.

Nest/Colony Location

If you see a hive above ground, chances are you’re looking at a honey bee colony. Bumblebees tend to make their nests underground. While some do nest above ground, bumblebees most commonly live at ground level.

Bumblebee Types

A bumble bee on yellow flowerVia Pixabay

Queen Bumble Bee

A queen bumble bee will spend part of her year-long life in hibernation. New queens usually emerge during the late summer or early autumn and will complete their full lifespan if disease, predators, or pesticides do not bring harm. After emerging, the queen will mate and feed to store fat for the winter.

Worker Bumble Bee

The lifespan of a worker bumblebee can last anywhere between two to six weeks. The length of life depends on the species, but other factors may come into play as well. Like honey bees, when the bee is born can play a role in how long or short their lifespan is. In addition to that, most worker bumblebees with nest duties tend to live longer than those who are tasked with foraging. This is because these bumblebees are more exposed to predators, weather conditions, and human interference.

Of course, bumblebees are equipped to withstand most conditions. They do not sting unless provoked, which can help them fight off predators. If they are caught in the rain or heat, they may need a quick rest or a drink of water before going about their business. If a human gets in the way, they may be able to defend themselves with their stingers or avoid the threat altogether.

How Long Do Bees Live?

So, how long do bees live? The answer is anywhere from two weeks to five years, depending on the type of bee and its role in life. But, what about the natural life cycle of a bee? All bees, whether drone, worker, or queen, go through four key stages. These key stages are the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let’s take a look at them in a bit more depth.

The Stages of a Bee’s Lifespan

A dying bee on a black backgroundVia Pixabay

Egg

A bee’s life begins when its egg is laid and hatched by the queen. During this life stage, the digestive system, nervous system, and outer covering of the bee are formed. Each type of bee has a different timeline between hatching and adulthood. For queens, the process takes 16 days. Drones develop in under 24 days while worker bees need 21 days total.

It is important to note that queens will lay over 2,000 eggs each day. However, not every egg is fertilized. Fertilized eggs will produce worker bees while non-fertilized eggs develop into drones.

Larvae

Three days after hatching, the larvae stage begins. Larvae are identifiable by their white color and nearly minuscule size. Over a couple of weeks, the larvae grow and shed their skin more than five times. This happens because of how quickly they are growing and eating (they consume over 1300 meals in a day!). Larvae are raised on a diet of royal jelly and “bee bread” (a mixture of honey and pollen). Though it takes them a few weeks to grow out of this stage, in just five days, a larva will have grown ten times its size. Once a certain size has been reached, the larva is then sealed in beeswax by a worker bee where it will spin itself a cocoon to develop into an adult.

Pupa

The pupa is the stage of the cocooned larvae. During this time, the eyes, legs, and wings are starting to develop and take shape. For example, the eyes are first pink, then purple, and then they become the black we are all familiar with. Finally, they grow hair over their bodies and increase in size until they are strong enough to chew their way out of the cocoon.

Adult

After about 12 days in the pupa stage, an adult bee will chew its way out of its cocoon and emerge. From here, the bee will either be a new queen, a worker, or a drone and live out the life allotted to it.

So, there you have it: four key stages, various types of bees, and tons of tasks to finish in a quick but jam-packed lifespan. Remember, we must protect our bee friends since they are at risk now more than ever. If you come across a bee, remember that if you do not bother it, it won’t bother you!

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The Buzz-Worthy Guide To Creating Your Own Paradise With Bee-Friendly Plants

Find bee-friendly plants for your garden


There's no sweeter sound to any gardener's ear than the contented buzzing of pollen-happy bees as they flit from flower to flower. Luckily, bee-friendly plants prove to be some of the easiest flowers to find and grow. 

That buzz is music to our ears -- knowing that we're supporting pollinating insects while creating a flower-filled paradise in our yard. 

And in exchange for providing a host of beautiful and delicious flowers for our little bee-buds, they return the favor by pollinating our vegetables and fruits as well.  

If you also plant fruit trees or have a vegetable garden, just adding some bee-friendly plants nearby can increase your harvest yield by up to 24 percent!

What You Need to Know About Bee-Friendly Plants

You may have heard about the alarming drop in the worldwide bee population. The good news is that honeybee populations are starting to recover.

But native bees -- like bumblebees -- also benefit when you add bee-friendly plants to your garden. 

Most bee-friendly plants are easy to grow because they're native to the region. As well as ensuring that you'll be able to create a successful bee garden, using native plants also ensures that you you won't have to spend a lot of time and money coddling them. 

Sunflowers are some of the easiest bee-friendly plants for the home garden.

Image CC0 via Pixabay

If you want to increase your garden harvest, support your local native bees and honeybees, and add beauty and drama to your landscape, consider adding bee-friendly plants and native flowers to your garden. 

Why are native plants better for creating a pollinator garden that attracts bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds? 

Let's find out.

The Relationship Between Bees and Flowers

Your local bees have learned to love the native plants where they live. Over the many generations, they've have adapted to seeking them out for pollen. 

Nature is filled with give-and-take relationships, known as symbiotic relationships. We see examples of these relationships in clownfish and sea anemones, cattle and birds, and most importantly, bees and flowers.

Flowering plants rely on bees and other pollinators to reproduce. 

Without bees to pollinate flowers, produce fruit, and eventually seed, the plants would simply die off.

Bee-friendly plants in a garden

Image CC0 via Pixabay

However, this relationship isn't one-sided! 

Bees rely on pollen and nectar, collected from various bee-friendly plants, to survive.

If bees don't collect these nutrients from various flowers, their hive will run out of food and eventually cease to exist.

Pollen is the yellow powder released from a plant's male flowers. This substance is needed to pollinate the plant's female flowers.

bee on a flower planted with bee friendly plants

Add bee-friendly plants to your garden. Image CC0 via Pixabay.

Some flowers have both male and female parts -- the stamen and pistil. But many rely on bees to transfer the pollen from one flower to another.

And while some of this pollen is brushed off on other flowers to pollinate them, bees do keep some of it for themselves. After all, pollen makes excellent food for bee larvae.

So we now understand the role pollen plays in this relationship.

But what is nectar?

Nectar is a sweet liquid produced by many flowering plants. For the plants, nectar serves no other purpose than to attract pollinators to its flowers. Essentially, nectar is a sugary bribe.

bees in a hive

Bees store food for the hive in their honeycomb. Image CC0 via Pixabay

Bees store nectar in their stomachs and carry it back to their hive. Then, they deposit the nectar into honeycomb cells, and the honey-making process begins.

If you've ever wondered why a hive's honey tastes different depending on which flowers the bees feed on, this is why!

How do bees and flowers communicate?

Obviously, bees are attracted to flowers because they provide delicious nectar.

But this isn't the full story:

Have you ever wondered how bees find flowers in the first place? Or why they prefer certain flowers in your garden over others?

Knowing the answers to these questions is essential to growing your own bee-friendly plants.

Sunflower on a sunlight with bee friendly plants

Sunflowers are one of the most popular bee-friendly plants. Image via Pixabay

Believe it or not, bees and flowers communicate in ways invisible to the human eye.

First, let's look at how different bee-friendly plants communicate with these pollinators!

Flowers use changing colors, patterns, and scents to attract bees. Many flowers use ultraviolet wavelengths, which are invisible to the human eye but act like a vibrant bulls-eye for foraging bees.

bee flying and attracted to flower scents

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Flower shapes also play a role in pollination. The most bee-friendly plants offer flowers with an open or tubular shape. If a bee can't get to the flower's pollen and nectar, it will continue on its journey without stopping.

Bees also communicate with flowers.

For instance, check out how this bumblebee's vibrations prompt a flower to open:

But bees don't just benefit flowers.

These pollinators are also a vital part of keeping our environment diverse and thriving. Bees are also critical for the agricultural industry.

Why We Need Bees and Other Pollinators

While there are countless insects, birds, and other animals that act as pollinators, bees are by far the most important.

Bees pollinate more varieties of flowers than any other pollinator on earth.

But these insects aren't just essential to the bee-friendly plants in your garden. They also help pollinate most of the world's agricultural crops.

Man wearing protector shield extracting honey from a beehive

Beekeeping supports our crops. Image CC0 via Pixabay

According to the US Department of Agriculture, one in three foods we eat is the direct or indirect result of bee pollination.

The plants we eat rely on this pollination in two ways: to reproduce (creating more plants for harvest) and to produce fruit. Just take a look at some of the most common agricultural crops that rely on bees for pollination:

In recent years, honey bees and other pollinators have been responsible for up to $19 billion worth of annual crop pollination.

bees help farmers make money for a living

Image CC0 via Pixabay

In fact, many farmers have started maintaining beehives on the outskirts of their land to ensure adequate pollination. Others hire hives to come to their land and pollinate their crops.

And with around 80-percent of wild plants relying on these bees for survival, we aren't the only living creatures who need the bees to ensure our food supply.

80%
of wild flora relies   on bees

Where are the bees going?

Unfortunately, our bee population had been dropping for several decades.

There are a variety of reasons for this decline, but most experts say the following are the primary causes:

  • Colony Collapse Disorder
  • Insecticides
  • Parasites and disease
  • Climate change

But, regardless of why the world's bee population is declining, the average gardener can plant bee-friendly plants to help them recover and thrive. 

Because without these pollinating powerhouses, home gardens and large farms won't be able to produce enough food. 

Lavender is a sweet-smelling bee-friendly plant

Image via Pixabay

And while there may not much the home gardener can do about commercial agriculture, there's no reason we can't pick up some of the slack. Especially when it's so easy and adds so much beauty and color to our yards.

Imagine how many bees we could support if every home added bee-friendly plants to their landscape! 

Home gardeners can still offer a huge helping hand to their local bee colonies.

All they need to do is add flower beds, especially those filled with nature's more bee-friendly plants.

400%
Can improve bee colony survival

By providing native flowering, bee-friendly plants to your garden or landscaping beds, you can help keep the local bee population going strong. And that means both honeybees and native bees!

And by planting a variety of species that flower throughout the spring, summer, and fall, you'll ensure that these essential pollinators never go without a good meal.

How to Create Your Own Bee-Friendly Plant Garden

When it comes to flowers, bees aren't very fussy. And that makes the chore of creating your own bee-friendly garden an extremely easy one!

In most cases, choosing a few bee-friendly plants is all it takes to draw local bees to your garden.

But for the most effective pollinator garden, we recommend following a few general guidelines:

pollinator garden with bee friendly plants

Pollinator garden with bee-friendly plants like coneflower. Image by USDA, CC by 2.0, via Flickr

Choosing a location

When choosing the location for your bee-friendly plants, you have to take into consideration the needs of your chosen plants. But you also have to pick somewhere that will attract the most bees.

To do that, you'll need to think like a bee.

You want at least part of your bee garden to be covered by shade during the day. If part of your garden has tree cover or other shelter, this will also help protect visiting bees from heavy rain.

On top of choosing the best general location for your garden, the placement of your bee-friendly plants is also important.

flowers that are planted in an organized clusters to attract more bees

Image CC0 via Pixabay

The best strategy is to plant your chosen flowers in organized clusters. That allows your bee visitors to indulge in — and more efficiently pollinate — one type of flower with ease.

Some bee species will bounce between different varieties of flowers. Others, though, prefer to feed on only one type at a time.

Scattering your flowers might look more aesthetically pleasing if you're going for that wild-grown look, but it also means that these selective bees can't feed or pollinate as efficiently.

If their flowers of choice are too far apart, they may even return to the hive without getting their fill of nectar.

a yellow with black stripes honeybee

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Providing shelter

At the very least, you want to have a covered space in your bee-friendly plant garden that offers temporary shelter from the wind and rain.

But that's not all you can do!

Avoid mulching around your bee-friendly plants. Or at least leave some spots of bare soil uncovered.

Many native bee species, including the adorable bumblebee, burrow into the ground to nest. If your entire garden is covered in mulch, these bees won't be able to get the most out of your bee-friendly plants.

honeybee hive with bumblebee inside

Image CC0 via Pixabay

If you must mulch your entire pollinator garden, consider leaving out some empty pots of soil or dirt.

These pots will provide shelter for burrowing bees in your garden. Just remember to place them somewhere that won't get soaked from rain or sprinklers.

Another option is to invest in some wooden bee houses. Old, untreated logs or lumber you have lying around can also serve as excellent makeshift shelters for nesting bees.

Of course, once you have your garden in place, you should check any of these structures for inhabitants before moving pots, dumping soil, or making any other changes that could harm your resident bees.

Offering water

Many eco-conscious gardeners overlook a key piece of caring for their local bees: water!

While bees rely on the flowers of bee-friendly plants for pollen and nectar, they also drink plain old water. And this resource can be difficult to find, especially in dry months.

So what can you do?

If you already have a birdbath in or near your pollinator-friendly garden, then you'll probably see bees and other insects taking advantage of this convenient water source.

a bee drinking in a source of fresh water

Bees need a source of fresh water. Image CC0 via Pixabay

But if you don't already have standing water nearby, you should keep a bowl of water in your garden.

To create a bee water bowl, pick out a shallow dish that you don't mind keeping outside. Before filling the dish with water, add pebbles and rocks of varying sizes until it's about half-full.

From here, you can add water to the bowl. But don't completely submerge the rocks!

Your resident bees will use these dry rocks to safely drink from the bowl — without risk of drowning.

a resident bee is safely drinking from a bowl of water

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Caring for your garden

Caring for your bee-friendly plants is pretty much the same as any other garden. But there is one critical thing to remember:

No insecticides!

Hopefully, you already avoid using insecticides in your garden or use an organic alternative. But if you do use these chemicals, now is the time to stop.

Insecticides might prevent infestation from harmful insects like aphids and leafcutters, but they can also hurt or kill entire bee colonies.

You should avoid using chemical insecticide on your bee-friendly plants. But we also encourage you to reconsider using these chemicals on any of your flowering plants.

If you're in search of an insect-repellent than won't harm your local bees, you do have some options.

Here are some of our favorite alternatives to chemical insecticides and the pests they work against the best:

Products

Insects / Pests

Neem oil

aphids, spider mites, powdery mildew

Epsom salt

slugs, snails, beetles

Aluminum foil

(wrapped around the plant's stem) 

aphids

Essential oils

bees and butterflies

Garlic

aphids, ants, white flies, caterpillars

Our favorite thing about these natural pest-control options is that they act as repellants rather than poisons. So you can keep pests away from your bee-friendly plants without causing any actual harm to them.

Before using any insecticide or pesticide on your bee-friendly plants, even if it is labeled as natural or organic, we recommend researching the ingredients first.

After all, the last thing you want to do is inadvertently hurt your local bee colony.

The Best Bee-Friendly Plants for Your Garden

We've finally come to the fun part of starting a pollinator garden -- choosing the best bee-friendly plants.

One of the most important tenets of creating a bee-friendly garden is choosing plants that will bloom in succession. The goal is to keep a steady supply of pollen and nectar available throughout spring, summer, and fall.

While most of these bee-friendly plants do just fine in a wide variety of climates, we recommend checking your area's hardiness zone before going out and buying a supply of seeds or transplants.

If you find that your geographical region is either too cold or too hot for most of the flower varieties we've listed below, we suggest reaching out to a regional university's horticulture or agriculture program. Or even a local gardening club.

With help from one of these organizations, you should be able to find native, bee-friendly plants better suited to your local climate.

That said, let's get started!

bee friendly plants like cosmos attract many beneficial insects to your yard

Cosmos are a favorite bee-friendly plant. Image CC0 via Pixabay

Spring

For bees, the start of spring means preparing for the next generation.

And here's what that means:

After a long winter, bees need to collect plenty of pollen and nectar to replenish their hive supplies. Or, if they're a solitary species, they need to replace personal energy lost during the winter.

They'll also need more water than usual to liquefy thickened honey.

Toward the end of spring, young worker bees will be entering the field for the first time!

During the spring, your local bee colonies will be out in full force collecting tons of valuable pollen and honey.

In this important time of year for colony development, what bee-friendly plants can you keep in your garden?

Crocuses are bee friendly plants emerge on early spring

Image CC0 via Pixabay

The crocus is an extremely dainty flower that is one of the first to emerge after winter's frost has dissipated.

With strong scents and a range of colors, these bee-friendly plants draw bees out from their winter slumber. And with a bloom that sits somewhere between an open and tubular shape, these flowers are the perfect size and shape for foraging bees.

Here's how to grow them:

  1. Crocuses grow from corms, a type of bulb and will return year after year. For the best results, plant crocus corms in your garden a few weeks before your area's first expected frost.
  2. If you choose to mulch your garden, you'll need to remove it in the early spring or late winter if you want your crocus sprouts to break through the soil. You can also spread crocuses in a blanket across your yard for a beautiful burst of spring color.
  3. These bee-friendly plants are hardy in Zone 3 through Zone 8. However, different varieties may have different temperature tolerances.
Lilacs are favorites for bees and gardeners alike

Image CC0 via Pixbay

Lilacs are bee-friendly plants that make great shrubbery for any landscape.

These fragrant flowers draw in all types of pollinators from far and wide. But bees are particular fans of the lilac. Since lilacs bloom in large clusters, bees can easily bounce from blossom to blossom as they collect pollen and nectar.

Take a look at what you can do with this plant:

  1. The most common type of lilac bush blooms in mid-to-late May, making it one of the best bee-friendly plants for late spring.
  2. Most lilac bushes grow between 5 and 15 feet tall. We recommend planting these bushes as a backdrop to your garden or along your house.
  3. Lilac bushes are hardy in Zone 3 through Zone 8. But some varieties of these bee-friendly plants can survive into Zone 2 and Zone 9.
Bees like roses as they produce large quantities of nectar

Single petal rose. Image CC0 via Pixabay

Roses technically toe the line between a spring and a summer bloomer.

But since most of these bee-friendly plants bloom closer to the end of spring, they can help bridge the gap between crocuses and lilacs and the strong summer bloomers.

Bees love roses because they produce large quantities of decadent nectar.

However, remember this:

The most important thing about using roses as one of your bee-friendly plants is choosing the right varieties.

Bees prefer roses with open petals that are easy to land on

Double Petal Rose - Image CC0 via Pixabay

However, remember this:

The most important thing about using roses as one of your bee-friendly plants is choosing the right varieties.

  1. Roses come in a range of shapes. But when we think of a rose flower, we normally think of double-petal varieties.
  2. However, these dense clusters of petals are extremely difficult for most bees to penetrate. Instead, you want to plant single-petal varieties that offer a nice, open bloom.
  3. Roses are great bee-friendly plants because there are so many different cultivars. We recommend visiting your local nursery or garden center to find the best rose bush for your particular climate

Summer

Once the heat of summer hits, your resident bees will need plenty of water to maintain their own body temperatures as well as the temperature of their hives.

In addition to keeping themselves cool, the local bee colonies will also start thinking about winter. That means collecting as much pollen and nectar as they possibly can.

Fortunately, summer offers plenty of bee-friendly plants to include in your garden.

Bee balm is one of the best bee friendly plants that blooms in the summer

Image CC0 via Pixabay

As the name implies, bee balm is one of the best bee-friendly plants for summer.

Growing this North American woodland plant is easy:

  1. The blossoms of these bee-friendly plants look like a cross between wild honeysuckle and daisies. You can find different shades of bee balm in pinks, yellows, and white. But the most popular color is vibrant purple.
  2. Picking spent blossoms from your bee balm plants will help encourage further flower production.
  3. Since bee balm is a member of the mint family, you might even notice a fresh, clean fragrance filling your garden during the summer months!
  4. Bee balms do best in Zone 4 through Zone 6. But most varieties can survive in up to Zone 9 with proper care.
Lavender is a fragrant flower that is one of the most bee friendly plants around

Image CC0 via Pixabay

According to a two-year study, lavender blooms are actually one of the most bee-friendly plants around!

Here's why:

  1. These super fragrant flowers might look too small for the average bee to access, but they are actually just right.
  2. And since lavender grows in clusters, bees can effectively bounce from plant to plant with relative ease.
  3. The most important thing when growing lavender is to not overwater it. While these plants are extremely drought-tolerant, they can succumb to overly moist soil.
  4. Most lavender plants are only hardy from Zone 5 through Zone 9. But more cold-resistant varieties of these bee-friendly plants are being developed as we speak!
Sunflowers large blooms attract bumblebees with its tons of nectar

Image CC0 via Pixabay

The sunflower is a classic backyard garden addition. But these over-sized yellow flowers are also great bee-friendly plants during the summer.

The sunflower's large blooms offer tons of nectar for hungry bees and other pollinators.

There are two types of sunflower you can plant in your garden: annual and perennial. While perennial varieties will come back every summer, they won't actually bloom until at least their second year.

Sunflowers are a great option for backyard gardeners who want to utilize more bee-friendly plants in their landscaping.

But be aware:

  1. These large plants can choke out other flowers. Make sure that you leave enough room between each of your sunflowers and between your sunflowers and other bee-friendly plants in your garden!
  2. Since, traditionally, sunflowers are annuals, they don't have a hardiness zone designation from the USDA.
Blackeyed Susans are loved by honeybees and native bees

Image CC0 via Pixabay

As far as bee-friendly plants are concerned, black-eyed Susans are some of the most foolproof.

You might also see these wildflowers marketed under the names Gloriosa daisy or brown-eyed Susan.

Look how easy this plant is to grow:

  1. These bright yellow flowers bloom throughout the entire summer and are extremely tolerant of heat and drought. They are also self-seeding and thrive in all types of soil.
  2. The coloring on these flowers attracts all types of bees — but especially honeybees — and the blooms provide plenty of nectar throughout the summer months.
  3. Black-eyed Susans even extend into fall with some blooming through October!
  4. If you want to grow these bee-friendly plants in your own garden, you're in luck. Black-eyed Susans thrive anywhere from Zone 3 through Zone 9.

Fall

As the summer months draw to a close and temperatures slowly drop, winter is on everyone's mind.

This includes the bees.

While bees spend summer collecting tons of pollen and nectar for their winter food stores, some will continue collecting into fall.

To help out these last-minute foragers, you can plant one of the bee-friendly plants below!

Stonecrop flower blooms in the fall

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Until very recently, the stonecrop flower was known as a type of sedum.

But not anymore:

  1. While the name has technically changed, you will probably see these bee-friendly plants marketed under both names!
  2. These plants are succulents, meaning they do well in hot and dry conditions.
  3. The most popular type of stonecrop, Autumn Joy, is a great addition to any pollinator garden.
  4. Since these bee-friendly plants bloom from late August to November, they help fill the gap between summer and winter for your resident bees.
  5. Whether you opt for a tall, bushy variety of stonecrop or one that blankets over rocks and soil, these plants offer carpets of bee-friendly flowers.
  6. Most stonecrop plants are hardy from Zone 4 to Zone 9. Autumn joy, though, is also hardy in Zone 3.
Goldenrod attracts bees and other pollinators

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Goldenrod has a bad reputation:

  1. Somehow, goldenrod has developed a reputation for triggering hay fever in allergy-prone individuals. However, this meadow flower is actually hypoallergenic!
  2. Instead, the culprit is the very similar-looking ragweed.
  3. Many home gardeners avoid using this flower in their garden because of this wives' tale. But goldenrod is actually one of fall's best bee-friendly plants.
  4. Most varieties of goldenrod begin blooming in July or August and continue into October.
  5. Since goldenrod is native to North America, you can find varieties to suit pretty much any climate. Goldenrod thrives in Zone 2 through Zone 8.

Help Nurture Nature with Bee-Friendly Plants

As you can see, creating a pollinator garden is as simple as choosing a handful of bee-friendly plants and planting them in the ground!

Bees pollinating on blackberry blossoms

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Since most bees are attracted to native wildflowers and other reliable bloomers, growing these flowers is extremely easy and low-maintenance.

Even if you live in a particularly hot or cold climate, there are several bee-friendly plants that will thrive in your respective hardiness zone.

And drawing in pollinators with these bee-friendly plants can help attract bees and even butterflies to your fruit and vegetable crops or other garden flowers.

Adding shelter and water to your garden, as well as avoiding the use of chemical insecticides, will help ensure that your resident bees' needs are met. This will help them feel safe and comfortable returning to your garden throughout the year.

Plus, if you work to include a wide range of bee-friendly plants that bloom at different times of the year, your pollinator garden will offer a steady supply of pollen and nectar throughout your region's bees' entire active season.

So, now that you know the ins-and-outs of creating your own bee-friendly garden, are you ready to create a pollinator paradise in your own backyard? 

Maybe the next step will even be raising your own hive! 

Featured Image: CC0 via Pixabay

How Far Do Bees Travel: What You Need to Know About Foraging

How far do bees travel when collecting pollen and nectar?

If you keep honeybees, you’re probably concerned that your hive will be able to find enough forage nearby to produce enough honey for you to harvest. Even if you’re simply planning a flower garden full of bee-friendly plants, you’re probably wondering how far do bees travel when foraging for nectar and pollen.

People have valued a wide range of bee species for their role in the pollination of crops and the production of honey and beeswax. Beekeepers want to keep their hives healthy and fed with enough forage to produce enough honey to harvest.

So, you’ll want to know their flying range when searching for nectar so you can ensure they have adequate forage in the local area. You’ll need to know how far do bees travel so you’ll be confident they’ll find enough food in the local flora. If not, you’ll want to plant plenty of bee-friendly plants and flowers to support your hive.

How Far Do Bees Travel When Foraging

It’s important to understand the migration and travel patterns of bees if you plan on beekeeping or gardening in support of your local bee population. Bees have a critical impact on local agriculture and plant life. And in return, your local flora and farms influence the health and production of your bees.

Some bees are experts at pollinating specific flora and fauna better than others. And like most living creatures, they also have their preferences when it comes to their meals.

Some of the different types of bees you’ll see in your local area include the following.

  • Honeybees
  • Carpenter Bees
  • Bumblebees
  • Blueberry Bees
  • Mason bees

If you’re curious about how far do bees travel, you might be in for a surprise. Depending on the type of bee and its reasons for flying out, the travel distance varies. For example, bumblebees have traveled distances ranging from 330 feet to up to a mile.

how far do bees travel
Image CC0 via Pexels

The Amazing Honeybee

Honeybees will usually travel between half a mile to as much as 3.75 miles to scout out plants to forage. However, some people have recorded them flying as far as over 8.25 miles during their journey for nectar.

We can recognize the honeybee by its signature buzz, which is caused by a wingstroke rate of 200 beats per second. The honeybee can also travel at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

However, when you’re considering how far do bees travel for food, it’s usually not that far. Most honeybees want to stay close to their hive. It’s also important to remember that, when traveling, not all bee types are proficient at pollinating every kind of flower or plant that they encounter.

how far do bees travel
Image CC0 via Pixabay

Human Threats to Bees and Their Travel Plans

When researching how far do bees travel for food, it helps to be aware of some external factors in play. Some human activities can grossly interfere with their range.

The widespread use of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids in commercial nurseries can disrupt their natural patterns and behavior, as well as their ability to forage efficiently. One curious effect of our impact is that the presence of Wi-Fi, cellphone towers, and EMF from human technology can cause debilitating harm to bee populations.

Radiation and electric waves damage and interfere with the bees’ natural compass. This interference makes it very challenging for them to travel correctly or safely.

Bees pollinate about a third of the plants we consume. So, any disruption or disappearance of bee populations can send shockwaves throughout the food chain and environment. And this, of course, includes our own agricultural landscape and food supply.

In order to plan ahead for your hive’s health and welfare, you should be know how far do bees travel when foraging. Do an extensive survey of your nearby flora and farms for potential food sources. In that way, you’ll know whether you should increase the number of pollinator plants on your property. In some cases, you may even want to provide a bee-feeder to supplement their diet.

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