Bees operate within a radius of 3km. They are attracted by colors and odor of flowers and other objects. Important colors that attract bees are blue, yellow, white, green-blue and ultraviolet. Plant species with these flower colors attract more bees to them and therefore contribute more nectar to the honey produced than plants with other flower colors. Black color arouses aggression especially if the object is close to the beehive and in motion.
Colors attract bees even when the objects are far whereas the odor guides the bee within limited ranges. Therefore as a beekeeper you should allow bees to find as much food and water as possible near the hive by planting suitable plant species near the apiary. This ensures good honey harvest because the bees spend less time to look for food. Failure to do this might force the bees to forage further away. Note that bees are consistent and do not hop from one kind of flower to another. As they forage for nectar and pollen of a specific color, they do not pay attention to other flowers and colors until they exhaust the reserves of that specific species.
Obviously as a beekeeper this has important implications in the kind of honey you desire to produce. You can decide to produce honey made from nectar of one plant species (mono-flora honey) which fetches higher prices in the market. This will guide you in identifying the place to grow the plant species bearing in mind the orientation of the hive which should be south–easterly. The entrance to the hive should face the field where the plant species is planted. If the field or crop already exists then the apiary should be positioned in a south–easterly direction making sure the entrance to the hive faces the crop.
Materials collected by bees
Nectar is the main ingredient for making honey. It is mainly sourced from flowers and occasionally from honey dew secreted by plant-feeding insects. Foraging bees make about 25,000 trips to collect a litre of nectar.
The nectar once collected by the foraging bee is transported into the hive. Inside the hive the bee regurgitates the nectar fluid and supplies this to a receiving bee. The exchange is done through the proboscis. The nectar is then stored in appropriate comb cells to be ripened into honey.
During this food exchange, enzymes present in special glands within the honey stomach of the bee are added to the nectar. These enzymes break down sucrose into fructose and glucose which are easily digestible by humans. Water in the nectar is evaporated to minimum humidity levels. Honey is ripe when enzyme activity is complete. The ripened honey is then capped with a layer of wax.
Pollen is the male element of a flower and is gathered when flowers bloom. Bees use the pollen for food, but as they forage the grains remain on their hairy bodies and are transferred between flowers where they cause pollination. Pollen is also the bees’ only source of protein, vitamins, and other substances essential for the proper growth and development of the colony. Pollen can be of different colors depending on several factors
Foraging bees gather pollen for the brood according to the size of the colony present in the hive. A big brood means a higher demand for pollen and this necessitates a higher deployment of foraging bees and trips to gather to gather the pollen.
Once collected it is mixed with nectar and packed into pollen baskets. Each pollen basket carries about 7.5mg of pollen. Inside the hive it is sprinkled with honey and stored in cells by forager bees. A strong colony can collect up to 50kg of pollen in a year.
Honeydew is a sweet secretion by various sap-sucking insects such as aphids. Production of honey dew varies according to weather conditions. It is available in liquid form and easy to collect in the evening. During the day honeydew dries up owing to high temperatures. Bees make many trips at dawn to collect the honeydew.
The daily need for water for a colony under very harsh conditions is about 5 litres. Without water a colony dies within days. Water is important for reducing temperatures in the beehive and in preparing food for the worker bees and drones larvae older than three days. In food preparation, worker bees search for water that is rich in salt and organic substances. The amount of water collected depends on different factors such as season, climate and latitude.
Nectar contains a lot of water (40 – 80%), hence the higher the availability of nectar, the lower the water requirements. During scarcity of flowers and nectar bees must supplement this by searching for water. Therefore it is good practice for the beekeeper to avail water in close proximity to the apiary, preferably within 10 – 15 metres.
Propolis is a sticky resinous material secreted by plants to protect the buds in particular period of the year. It is also produced by the barks of trees. Bees collect and package the propolis through the pollen baskets on their hind legs. However, the size of the ball of propolis carried by the bee in the pollen basket is smaller than the one for pollen. Propolis collection occurs during the hottest time of the day because at this time the resin is soft and easier to collect.
Propolis is used by the worker bees to cement mobile objects within the hive such as the inner cover to the brood chamber. It is also used to seal small holes or cracks up to 6 – 7mm and to embalm carcasses of intruders such as mice that have been killed but are too large to move out of the nest. Propolis is also used to clean and disinfect brood cells.