Gardening Fast Facts: Honey Bees

Did you know that the major insect pollinator of our crop plants is the honey bee? They've been our reliable gardening partners for more than 4,000 years. In regions where honey bee populations are low, beekeepers bring the honey bees to the crops. Honey bees are so important to our survival that their health and well-being are monitored very closely. Of all the insects, these bees are the most regulated and researched.

The leader of the honey bee colony is the queen. She overwinters in the hive along with sterile female honey bees, called workers. In the spring, the queen lays eggs and the workers tend to them. Peak foraging months are April, May, and June, when workers seek out nectar and pollen for themselves, the queen, and the developing larvae. The number of workers can grow to as high as 50,000.

By early summer, fertile males, called drones, and females appear on the scene. The queen leaves the hive with a swarm of workers and starts a new colony, and leaves a daughter queen behind to continue the work. A queen bee can live from two to five years; other bees in the colony live a short life of about six weeks.

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