If you have ground bees nesting in your yard, you’re probably wondering if there’s sweet, golden honey lining those underground nests. Well, I did some research and it turns out that:
Ground bees do not make honey – only honey bees make honey. Most ground bees live alone in underground nests. Ground bees store only a little pollen and nectar in their underground nests for themselves and larvae in summer. Honey bees must turn nectar to honey to feed thousands of bees over winter.
Knowing how honey is made and why will go a long way in understanding why ground bees never make honey and what they do to survive so magnificently, so that these solitary insects outlast the harsh winters and go on to pollinate so many plants and trees for us come spring.
What is honey?
Honey is a food source for honey bees. The bees make honey from the nectar found in flowers. Nectar is sweet and is made up of sugar and water. Honey bees collect nectar and work together to dry it out as honey, then they store it in their honeycomb for winter.
Honey takes on the properties and flavors of the nectar and pollen the flowers came from. For example, bees make Manuka honey from the pollen and nectar of Manuka flowers. Manuka honey has a dark and creamy color, a medium level of sweetness, and is believed to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant.
No wonder honey bees survive harsh winters!
How honey bees make honey
Plants and honey bees have a great friendship going on.
Plants want pollinators like bees, bats, butterflies and many others, to visit them. When pollinators come into contact with a flower, they accidentally or on purpose collect pollen in that flower.
The pollinator then moves to another flower on the same or another plant, and drops pollen from the first flower onto the second flower.
This transfer of pollen from one flower to another is called “pollination”, and it is how a plant is fertilized. Plants and trees need pollination to make seeds and fruits, or their kind could die out.
To attract pollinators to their flowers, plants make a sugary treat called nectar. Many pollinators, especially bees, love and need nectar to survive, so they visit flowers to collect the nectar.
After collecting nectar, honey bees pass it from one bee to the next, over and over again. They pass it from mouth to mouth, so each bee gets a chance to chew on the nectar. As they do this, enzymes from the bees change the properties in the nectar.
Each bee that chews on the nectar takes a little moisture out of it, but it’s still too wet for what the bees want to do with it. You see, wet nectar ferments and goes off quite quickly, and the bees need it to last an entire winter.
So the honey bees spread the nectar over their honeycomb and fan it with their wings, to dry it out even more. As the nectar dries, it thickens and turns into honey.
Once the nectar is honey, it has half the moisture in it than when it left the flowers and can be stored for a very long time without going bad. It’s like freeze drying food for a stockpile.
The honey is put into cells in the honeycomb. Each cell is topped with beeswax once it is full, to keep the honey fresh inside.
Here’s a video explaining how bees make honey:
Why honey bees make honey
Honey bees live in large colonies, with thousands of honey bees staying active during the cold winter months. The bees stay in the hive and vibrate to generate enough heat, keeping the hive warm and the queen alive.
All these thousands of bees need to eat to survive.
Honey bees make honey in spring and summer as a food source for winter, when there are no flowers to provide them with nectar to eat. Honey has a lot less moisture in it than the nectar it is made from, so it is great for long-term storage and doesn’t go off or ferment.
Why don’t ground bees make honey?
Ground bees do not make honey because they don’t need to store food for the winter. Ground bees hibernate in winter and are not active, so they do not need a food source for the cold months.
Most ground bees are solitary and live alone, with a female making several cells in her nest in which to lay her eggs. She may choose to do this in your yard under the right conditions.
Ground bees become active in early spring, and spend their days collecting nectar and pollen from flowers. This is what makes ground bees such great pollinators, just like honey bees.
Female ground bees place a ball of nectar and pollen in a cell in their nest and lay an egg on it. This is done in March, April, or early in May of the year.
The eggs hatch a few days later and the larvae eat the pollen and nectar for food. The larvae keep growing until they are adults, which is around fall.
By this time, the mother ground bee has died off and is no longer active above ground in your yard or in the nest.
The adult larvae stay in their mothers’ underground nest and hibernate for the winter. When late winter or early spring arrives in March or April the following year, the ground bees leave the nest and start collecting pollen and building nests to continue the life cycle.
What do ground bees eat?
Adult ground bees eat pollen and nectar from flowers. They collect these from within a couple hundred yards of their underground nests. The bees collect only as much pollen and nectar as they need to sustain themselves and to feed their larvae soon after hatching.
Pollen and nectar are never turned into honey in a ground bees’ nest, not even in social ground bees’ nests like bumblebees.