Honeybee Facts: Learn About a Busy, Buzzing Beneficial Insect

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Illustration By Keith Ward
If you notice honeybees feeding heavily on a certain plant, give this plant space near the center of your garden in a permanent beneficial bed.

This article is part of ourOrganic Pest Control Series, which includes articles on attracting beneficial insects, controlling specific garden pests, and using organic pesticides.  

Honeybees (Aphis melliferae

Familiar furry, yellowish half-inch-long honeybees are always a welcome sight in the garden, because honeybees improve pollination of over 400 crops. Tree fruits, berries and cucumber family crops in particular benefit from visits from honeybees. When managed in hives, honeybees also provide delicious honey. Honeybees rarely sting except by accident or in defense of a beehive, because use of its stinger is lethal to a honeybee.

What Do Honeybees Eat?

The highly structured lives of honeybees are reflected in their diet. Inside the hive, young honeybees are fed a protein-rich diet based on pollen. Early-blooming fruits, clovers, crucifers, poppies and other flowers are important pollen producers during this time.

After a week or so, the diet of young honeybees is switched to sugary flower nectar, which is also the dietary mainstay of adult bees. Herbs, shrubs, and annual and perennial flowers that bloom in mid- to late summer help satisfy this need. Honeybees are especially attracted to bachelor button, catnip, caryopteris (bluebeard), and many other herbs and flowers. Honeybees that can easily collect pollen and nectar from a wide diversity of plants enjoy better nutrition than bees restricted to specific field crops. In winter, worker bees occasionally forage on sunny days, but honeybees subsist on stored honey during the cold months. 

How to Attract Honeybees 

Provide a shallow pan of water raised to flower height, because bees often take water breaks as they forage. Grow a diversity of flowering garden plants, and interplant buckwheat when possible to attract honeybees and other beneficial insects. If you notice honeybees feeding heavily on a certain plant, give it space near the center of your garden in a permanent beneficial bed. Study up on beekeeping and consider adding beehives to your homestead.

Other ways to attract honeybees include placing a pile of moist sawdust in a place that gets morning sun. On warm days in late winter, worker bees may gather fungal exudates from moist piles of sawdust. Honeybees also will scour honey from any surface. Instead of washing honey containers, place them in a sunny spot and let the bees do it.   

More honeybee information is available from Texas A & M University, University of California Berkeley, University of Massachusetts, and the University of Tennessee

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