Grocery Shopping with Honey Bees

Grocery shopping has taken on a new meaning in the pandemic.  Grocery shopping is my favorite of all the household chores.  I love the orderliness of a grocery store, the bright lighting, and the products from around the world.  I like trying to find the subtle Jedi mind tricks that the grocery store uses to get me to buy more.  Grocery shopping has become a more harrowing and utilitarian chore since the pandemic.  I no longer linger in the aisles.  I get in and out like a commando hoping that I haven’t contracted a deadly virus along the way.  Our local bee club hosted a virtual club meeting this month with the Kentucky State Apiarist, Dr. Tammy Horn Potter.  She educated us on honey bee nutrition and discussed what forager bees have on their “grocery list.”  In this post, I will share with you some of Dr. Potter’s facts, which blew my mind.  Her talk resonated with me since I like both bees and grocery stores.

Honey bees require an amazing amount of food.  Most people think bees just need flowers so they can make honey.  They do need flowers, but they need other things too, and all of these items have to be flown back to the hive.  Sometimes the bees fly for several miles each way.  So far as I know, there is no honey bee equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa.  You may always have milk, bread, and eggs on your grocery list.  Here are three items always on a bee’s grocery list:

Nectar – This is the sugary substance that comes from flowers.  Flowers can be wild flowers that grow low to the ground or the flowers of trees.  Many people forget that deciduous trees such as maple and locusts are good sources of nectar and pollen for bees.  Nectar provides bees with carbohydrates that the need for energy.  Honey bees are not into low carb diets.  For that matter, I am not either.  Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” not the kale smoothie of life.  According to Dr. Potter, a single hive needs about 120 pounds of nectar.  One single hive needs access to 252 million flowers prior to winter to obtain enough nectar.  If you want to help honey bees, plant more trees and flowers and stop mowing every inch of ground.


Spring Beauty is an important early blooming flower in our area for the bees.

Pollen – Pollen is how bees get protein.  The yellow stuff is bad for people with allergies and asthma but really important for the bees.  A typical hive needs about 44 pounds of pollen.

Water –  You may have noticed bees congregating around your bird bath or swimming pool.  Bees consume an enormous amount of water.  Dr. Potter stated that bees need 27 pounds of water for every 40 pounds of honey they consume.  (27 pounds of water is a little over 3 gallons or a little over 12 liters.)

Other items bees put onto their grocery lists include plant resin used to make propolis, which is the honey bee equivalent of glue and caulk.  Salts are another item on the shopping list.  Some people install salt blocks in their apiaries to ensure their bees get enough minerals.

Everybody likes a clean, well-stocked grocery store, and this is certainly true in a pandemic.  The natural world is the honey bees’ grocery store.  Increasingly the bees are finding that their “store” is not always well stocked and not always clean.  Thinking of our environment as a bee’s grocery store may guide human actions and behaviors and encourage us to strive towards a more sustainable future.

Here are a few other bee related updates:

  • If you read my last post, you know we were waiting for one of our hives to make a queen.  They succeeded, and the hive has a laying queen.  Hooray!
  • Three of our six hives swarmed.  This development is disappointing because we thought we were being diligent and taking all of the necessary steps to prevent swarming.  However, bees are hard wired to swarm.  This is nature’s way of establishing more bee colonies.  As one beekeeper told me, “It is difficult to stop bees from swarming once they get it into their minds.”  Now we will wait and hopefully the three hives that swarmed will successfully make queens and keep doing well.  Can you imagine if you were a cattle rancher and you went to the pasture and found that half of your cattle just disappeared?  That’s what it is like when you are raising bees and they swarm.
  • The milkweed plants in my flower garden are coming in very strong this year.  I now have enough plants for the garden to be considered a monarch butterfly waystation.  Later this year I hope to have lots of pictures and stories to share with you about monarchs.


    The monarch catterpillar I hosted in the flower garden last year.

  • On several occassions bumble bees have hovered around me while I work outside.  One day a bee hovered for several minutes.  It always stayed about three feet away and stayed in place as if it was going to start talking to me.  This has happened several times this spring.  I don’t know what to make of it, and would appreciate any thoughts anyone has to share on this topic.
  • The rain here won’t stop!  I can’t get the garden planted.  I have tomato plants and pepper plants in my basement under grow lights.  I am waiting for a small break in the weather so they can be planted along with all my seeds.  I never considered an umbrella to be a gardening tool until this year.  I keep reading about how gardening is supposed to be a relaxing activity that helps people’s psychological well being in the pandemic.  For me the vegetable garden was a way to feel like I was getting some small grasp of control so I would not be so vulnerable to external circumstances.  The constant bombardment of rain just feels like one more way that the universe is laughing at me.
  • Married With Bees hit 100 followers this week!  Thank you to all who read my blog.  I very much appreciate you and hope that it adds to your life in some small way.




2 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping with Honey Bees

  1. clivebennett796

    My Dad and I started keeping bees when a swarm settled in a small bush in our rural garden. We wondered whether they were native British bees as as no beekeepers lived nearby. Over the years some of our hives swarmed for no obvious reason, and we continued to attract swarms from elsewhere. I became quite good at collecting them and starting new colonies.

    Liked by 1 person


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