As I watch my bees coming and going (well, over the last week, mostly going but at least I got them back ) I can’t help wondering where they go to fetch food for the colony. What flowers do they prefer, how far are they traveling, and do they have a Nectar card?
Bees aren’t just sugar crazed nectar junkies – they need more than carbohydrate to raise their brood, they also need to bring protein into the hive. Luckily for our insect chums they don’t have to make two trips – shopping at Lidl for the basics then nipping across the road to Waitrose for a top up and a better class of carrier bag, they can get all they need from the same source – flowers use both nectar and pollen as a reward for visiting insects.
Nectar basically all looks the same when it’s inside a bee and heading for the hive but pollen is carried on the outside of their bodies. Pollen is packed up on a bunch of hairs on the back legs of a bee – the pollen baskets, mixed with a little nectar and squished into a pellet.
Bees are luckily messy creatures and they drop a fair bit, if I shamelessly scavenge the hive floor I can figure out what they’ve been up to – just like those men in suits and dark glasses I saw going through your bin last week.
I’m going to take up palynology – literally the study of dust, or more usually the study of pollen.
There are plenty of pollen colour charts available on the web for bee keepers- they relate the colour of pollen pellets to different species of plant but they’re not very accurate. I want to do better.
I’m a microscopist – I spend all day staring down microscopes so what better way to relax when I come home from work but to stare down a microscope looking at pollen.
This will not be an easy undertaking – preparing slides of pollen is a doddle, but actually relating their varied and complex shapes to a species of plant is another thing entirely. As well using old fashioned methods such as the internet I plan on gathering pollen from plants in the area and checking for myself.
From time to time ‘bee pollen’ crops up as the latest fad food, slimming supplement or way to grow a bigger marrow. Save It’s all bunch of second rate horse crap – not even good for the rhubarb. Seriously, there’s no evidence for any of those claims and think about it – you’re basically eating flower cum – says the bloke currently spreading concentrated bee vomit on a slice of fermented grass seeds . ( ref – Sciencebasedmedicine.org ).