Written by Herb Society Member – Beverley Walker
The plight of the honey bee has led to a dramatic increase in the number of hobby beekeepers over recent years – of which I was one. More hives are great but what about the forage to support them and the many other pollinators not ‘kept’ by us? Loss of hedgerows, woodlands, wildflowers and ‘weeds’ in field and garden, roadside verges and ‘waste’ land have all reduced forage. If we feel able to take away from the natural world so we can give back. The plants we choose for our gardens, pots or window boxes can go some small way to supporting the work the pollinators do for us.
Plants provide and bees need:
Pollen: a protein and food for worker bee larvae and newly emerged bees to ensure sound development of a gland – the hypopharyngeal gland. This is crucial to the production of brood (baby bee) food, the secretion of wax for the construction of comb and the conversion of nectar into honey. Pollen also contributes to the development of fat cells. This enables end of summer/autumn bees, with their much longer than average lifespans, to survive winter months and provide food for baby bees emerging early the following spring.
Bees carry pollen on their legs in ‘pollen baskets’. As pollen comes in many different colours a loaded pollen baskets suggest flowers recently visited.
Nectar: a carbohydrate, a liquid sugar made up of sucrose, fructose and glucose in varying amounts according to the different plants foraged. Borage (Borago officinalis) for instance has a 25% sugar content whereas marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is almost 80%. Nectar also contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It is used as immediate food for energy and is converted and stored as honey.
Pollen and nectar are provided in varying amounts in different herbs. Orchard fruits are pollen rich; primrose provides a valuable nectar source for early emerging queen bumble bees. Some pollen and nectar is accessible to any and all bee pollinators, for example, thyme, borage, thistle, sage, centaurea and dandelion; in other flowers it may only be available to a particular species of bee pollinator for example, mint, columbine, bee balm, mullein, savory and oxeye daisy.
Bee pollinators need a wide variety of pollen and nectar giving plants; herb flowers are one of the best providers.
Watch out for Part 2 to follow soon….
All photos taken and provided by Beverley Walker