Plants for Bees of the British Isles

Gardeners and beekeepers alike – all friends of the bees – will be glad to note that the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) is publishing a new book, Plants for Bees, a “comprehensive guide to the plants that benefit the bees of the British Isles.”

With both native bee and honeybee populations under threat everywhere,  home gardeners have an increasingly important role to play in helping to support these vital pollinators.  By becoming aware of which plants are most attractive as food sources for bees,  and planting more of those flowers and plants, anyone with a small patch can contribute to offsetting the rapid destruction of habitat and biodiversity on which native bees depend.

Our gardens are … fast-becoming an alternative home for many of our bee species and for our native bees to survive and thrive these spaces are crucial.

In this fascinating book, Dr William Kirk and Dr Frank Howes explain the importance of planting flowers for both long- and short-tongued bee species and sets out clearly which plants benefit which type. A simple key system allows gardeners to quickly identify the advantages of more than 300 plants for each type of bee and the information is punctuated by stunning photography.

Plants for Bees: A Guide to the Plants That Benefit the Bees of the British Isles is available now for pre-order at, or members of the International Bee Research Association may buy the book at a discount by ordering via the IBRA.

For more information:
Visit the website for the book at,
or contact
Sarah Jones, IBRA
16 North Road, Cardiff
CF10 3DY
Telephone: 029 2037 2409

Bees in Space: Bumblebees Show Promise for Off-World Pollination

For years, scientists have been working to figure out how humans can grow the food plants they’d need to sustain a crew in long-distance space missions – and pollination is a big part of that puzzle.

Honeybees may be the most efficient pollinators of food crops here on earth, but the low pressure conditions and enclosed space that would be involved for a space-travelling greenhouse are not conditions in which honeybees work well. (If you’ve ever had any of your own bees get trapped inside a glassed-in porch or greenhouse, you’ll know all too well how they bump blindly against the windows and seem to forget all about the plants!)

Bumblebees, on the other hand, are already established as the greenhouse pollinator of choice, since they seem much happier to work indoors. Now, a new study from the University of Guelph find that bumblebees also seem to tolerate low-pressure conditions, such as would most likely be necessary in an extra-terrestrial plant production facility.

Will bumblebees someday provide their pollination services in space?

See: E. Nardone, P.G. Kevan, M. Stasiak and M. Dixon. 2012. Atmospheric pressure requirements of bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) as pollinators of Lunar or Martian greenhouse grown food. Gravitational and Space Biology 26(2): 13-21.

Photo: Bombus impatiens by llorban, via Wikimedia Commons

Candy-Coloured Honey Not So Sweet for French Beekeepers

What would you do if your bees starting making blue and green honey? For some beekeepers in France, the answer is – swallow a bitter financial loss.

We know that the flavour and consistency of honey will depend to a large extent on what forage plants our bees have been working, and some of us will be familiar with the challenge of trying to sell a dark-coloured strong-flavoured buckwheat honey to customers raised on pale mild white clover honey in the mass market… but that’s nothing compared to the challenge facing some French beekeepers this season, according to a recent Reuters news story.

When their bees started to fill the combs with strange blue and green honey in August, beekeepers near the town of Ribeauville, in the Alsace region of France, did some digging. They discovered a biogas plant within bee forage range has been processing waste from a Mars candy factory that makes the popular multi-hued M&M candies. As soon as the plant management was alerted that the sweet waste was attracting honey bees, they took steps to clean out waste containers and keep incoming material under cover – but meanwhile the beekeepers of the area are stuck with a tainted harvest.

The news story doesn’t tell us whether the candy-coloured honey has been tested for food safety, but it seems doubtful whether the blue and green harvest could find a market even if it were approved for human consumption. And the long-term effect on the bees of ingesting the food dyes? Also unknown.

Read more:
Bees in France produce blue and green honey; beekeepers blame M&Ms. Bees have a taste for M&M’s candy, beekeepers discover by Patrick Genthon (Reuters) and Photos: M&M’s turn bees’ honey blue?, 5 October 2012.

Photo by Bribri2B (fichier personnel) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control – Treatment Recommendations 2012

You’ll find a lot of conflicting information about “best practices” for treating your honey bees to prevent disease and control mites in the hives, so it can be hard to know what recommendations to follow as conditions change over time and new knowledge is acquired through apiculture research and testing.

One of the most reliable sources you’re likely to come across is the 2012 Ontario Treatment Recommendations for Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs of the Province of Ontario, Canada.

This information sheet is of course especially useful for Canadian beekeepers, but the treatment recommendations are often just as applicable in similar climates such as the northernmost United States.

Don’t Step On a Bee, Eh?

Imagine if you were crossing a small city’s walking bridge and saw a cluster of 400 honeybees – barely a good handful, most likely a cast from an overcrowded hive during an extended spell of hot weather.

Is that a cause for alarm?

Apparently some passerbys in Fredericton, New Brunswick, thought so. Seeing the cluster of bees on the bridge, someone decided that the only appropriate action was to stomp on them, killing a hundred or so of the insects.

The outcome? Pretty much what you might expect:

Agitated bees going into defensive mode. Stings for at least 10 people. City officials called in with a pesticide spray. Dead bees, when the world needs all the pollinating insects we can get or protect. And yet another news story about a “swarm” of bees coming into conflict with humans in an urban area.

Whatever happened to “live and let live”?

Yes, it is often frightening to people who aren’t familiar with bees, to encounter more than one or two at a time; even more so when the bees have been violently disturbed and are reacting to that. Yes, it isn’t pleasant to get a bee sting – and it can be life-threatening for the small percentage of people who are severely allergic to bee stings. But in this case, the bees reacted to nearby humans as a threat because they were “agitated” – by someone who thought it was funny or smart to step on the cluster, instead of just leaving the bees in peace.

Did you Know?

Don’t Step On a Bee Day is July 10th.

The cluster wasn’t in an area of tall grass, where the bees might have been hard to see – it was a wide-open pedestrian area, a bare wooden deck of a walking bridge. It seems highly unlikely that the bees were squashed underfoot by accident. Left alone, they would have dispersed – perhaps within minutes; certainly by the next day – and in the meantime would have caused no harm to people who simply walked by and let them be.

There will always be those among us who feel the need to destroy the unfamiliar, to inflict harm to satisfy some urge of their own, or to “poke a sleeping bear” to see what happens… but this Fredericton bee story is not an isolated one.

Honey bees need a new PR agent.

Almost every week, except in winter, there’s a rather sensationalized report of bees on the loose in an area where bees are not normally seen in quantity. Reporting on swarm stories, news headlines use words like “terrorize,” “attack,” “wreak havoc“… “like a scene from a horror movie.”

And the sensational language doesn’t seem to vary much, whether it’s an overturned truckload of more aggressive Africanized bees in the southern United States, stressed by long-haul pollination even before their hives are smashed open on a highway or it’s a handful of docile European honeybees gathered on a warm wooden bridge in a small eastern Canadian town, resting before they fly on to find a new home.

Clearly, despite all the attention given to Colony Collapse Disorder in recent years, the apiculture/agriculture community still needs to do a better job of educating the general public – not only about the importance of honeybees as pollinators for our food supply, but also about the very nature of bees and how to behave around them, for the continued health and happiness of all.

Photo:  Bienen