Every school child knows that bees eat honey, which they make from flowers. True but school child oversimplifies. Honey, made from sugar-rich nectar, is more accurately bee fuel. To build strong bee bodies requires protein and that is obtained from pollen, which is fermented to become bee bread and fed to worker or drone brood. For their first few days all brood are fed another specific substance called royal jelly or bee milk. Brood intended to become queen receive royal jelly exclusively. As far as we know there is no bee peanut butter.

And then there is water, which they can get from a provided bee waterer or any handy puddle or pond, creek or, less happily for humans, bird bath or swimming pool. Some beeks report that the bees seem to prefer dirty water to clean and speculate that they are obtaining minerals thereby.

In addition to all these we recently found a surprising interest in mushroom mycelium reported on the Fungi Perfecti site in a discussion on permaculture.

For 6 weeks one summer our bees attacked a King Stropharia bed, exposing the mycelium to the air, and suckled the sugar-rich cytoplasm from the wounds. A continuous convoy of bees could be traced, from morning to evening, from our beehives to the mushroom patch, until the bed of King Stropharia literally collapsed. When a report of this phenomenon was published in Harrowsmith Magazine (Ingle, 1988), bee keepers across North America wrote me to explain that they had been long mystified by bees’ attraction to sawdust piles. Now it is clear the bees were seeking the underlying sweet mushroom mycelium.

And we had thought a balanced bee diet just included a variety of blooms.