While August is traditionally a time for relaxation and summer holidays for us, for bees it’s a very different story. Late summer for the bees is one of the most desperate times of the year when they can struggle to find enough food to eat.
Many people find this fact difficult to believe as the weather is often balmy and presumably great for the bees, but it is one of the leanest times for the busy insects. At this time of the year, although declining in population, Honeybee colonies still contain around 40,000 hungry individuals.
The Bee Good hives are still full of bees
With so many mouths to feed and with most flowers diminishing in abundance, bees can struggle to replace any honey previously harvested by beekeepers. For this reason, beekeepers mustn’t be overly greedy, leaving the bees with no stores for themselves later in the year.
Second generation Bumblebee colonies and late-emerging species like Brown Banded Carder Bee will be producing the next generation of Queens and Drones that also require a generous supply of pollen and nectar at this time of year.
Come late summer, most of our nectar-rich native wild plants have ceased flowering and gone to seed, especially woodland and meadow flowers whose flowering period is in rhythm with the closing of the woodland canopy and cutting of meadows for hay. Bramble and all our native trees have also long since finished flowering and are now sporting fruits and seeds leaving little for the bees.
Himalayan Balsam being visited by a bee
Away from Heather moorland and heaths, the only real bountiful sources of forage from native wild plants are Greater Willow Herb, Thistles, Ragwort, Bindweed and Hogweed – though many of these are early this year and already going over. Along watercourses, Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Woundwort, Water Mint and the invasive Himalayan Balsam provide welcome relief but not everyone is in range of such localised sources of forage.
Late summer is one of the largest gaps in forage during the beekeeping season and ends with the brief glut of nectar provided by Ivy flowering in the autumn. Ivy is the last opportunity for our bees to stock up for winter and for wild pollinators a chance to fuel migrations south to warmer climates or for females to fatten up in readiness for hibernation.
Research conducted by our friends at the University of Sussex has demonstrated that honey bees fly furthest to find forage in late summer. Their study found that Honey Bees were flying up to 12km to visit gardens in town centres where domestic gardens and public parks planted with bee-friendly summer flowers were providing much of their forage needs. This goes to show just how vital our urban gardens are for bees at this time of the year!
Look out for our next blog on Bee-Friendly gardening in August for tips on how to extend the flowering period of many plants and which plants to choose to help the bees find food in the late summer.