Belly Up to the Blossom

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Over the years, I’ve gone from being a reluctant gardener to an enthusiastic one.  There is something to be said about the pleasure of the morning sun on your back, the rich scent of loamy soil under your fingernails and the gentle buzzing of the bees working the blossoms of squash, cucumbers and melons. It’s a peaceful, elemental connection to the earth.  A moment one rarely takes advantage of in today’s hustle and bustle world.

 I find myself smiling at the antics of the bumblebee flying lazily from flower to flower and work gingerly around the squash blossoms as the bees dive belly up into the center of the bloom.  The bees lap up the nectar using their proboscis (tongue) to draw the sugary substance into their honey stomachs for safe passage back to the hive.

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Nectar is composed of 80 percent water and 20 percent sucrose.  It would quickly ferment if not processed into honey by the bees. In order to reach a moisture content in the range of 14-18 percent, honey undergoes a complex transformation between the forager bee, the worker bee who receives the nectar and the collective action of the hive drying the honey before safely capping it with wax.  Without these actions, the honey will ferment and the hive would starve.

The honeybee picks up the fine particles of pollen produced by the male reproductive parts of the flower during these nectar foraging flights.  Pollen clings to the fine short hairs on the bee’s body by the indirect action of static cling and is scattered amongst the blooms pollinating  otherwise uni-sexual plants.  The bee uses its front legs to groom the leftover pollen pushing the particles back into the indentations on its hind legs.  Pollen is an essential component in royal jelly and only fed to larvae in the first 2-3 day stage.  Royal jelly is fed to the queen bee for the rest of her egg-producing life and if the need arises can be used to rear another queen. 

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So the next time you notice a bee belly up in a blossom with her hind legs wiggling in joyful abandon, slow down, take a deep breath and learn to appreciate the complex life cycle teeming around you.  Awareness is the first step to stewardship and that is a healthy perspective for all of us.

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A few additional facts about bees and honey:

*  Bees produce 1/12th teaspoon of honey in their lifetime(the average worker bee’s lifespan is about six weeks)

*  A healthy hive contains about 60,000 bees.  They will travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than 2 million plants to produce one pound of honey

* There are more than 300 kinds of honey in the U.S. from many different sources.  The source of the nectar affects the color and taste of the honey.

*  Studies show that although pollen count is reduced, honey retains the  same nutrient count after processing.

Ref:  National Honey Board, honey@nhb.org.

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