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I gathered a LOT (over 500) bags of leaves last fall for my garden. I put most of them down in the fall, but I saved about 50 bags to use to protect some more tender plants, to insulate the north wall of the chicken house, and I used about a dozen bags around and over the beehives for the winter to protect them.

Anyway, the leaves got fairly wet over the winter in the bags, and many of them (except for the oak leaves, which didn't break down much yet) are pretty anaerobic and a bit "smelly".

I spread them all yesterday over some perennial beds and the area I'm going to grow melons in this year.

When the sun came out and it warmed up to about 50 this afternoon, the bees were ALL OVER these rotted leaves. They seemd to be working the leaf piles like a nectar source (tongues out).

What could be in there they like so much? Perhaps a little alcohol? It's not the water, IMO, as they have access to abundant water (2 ponds within 50 feet of the hives).
 

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Good question. I dont know,

I have a wood shop. I build my own equipment. All my scraps are burnt in my burning barrel outside the shop. In spring, I have a handfull of bees digging at the wet ash after a rain in my barrel. Only wet ash, not sure what they need from it. Probably someone here knows,
 

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I am also intrigued by this. I applied composted sheep manure to my garden and the bees have been all over it. Maybe some trace minerals? Or acids of some sort
 

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I'll bet it was the water they were going after, even though you say there are ponds nearby, bees will use whatever water they prefer to use, not the water you think they should use or may provide for them. Early last year I set up a small basin of water with wood floats in it and a continuous dripping of fresh water into the basin by a hose. Not one bee used it all year, they preferred to get water from other places, one of which was from my sprinkler system.
 

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I agree, Mine prefer the catch pan that goes below a washer if it floods. Its full of leaves and nasty looking water, but they love it. I also have a pond that they used exclusively last year, havent seen them on it, but they are all OVER the pan full of yucky water.
 

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One Theory I've heard is...

Bees navigate or search by smell.
Smelly water is more attractive than clean clear water.
Water in compost does have a smell, one that pleases me though I'm not drinking it! But I think it pleases the bees, as anytime I've seen wet compost then that's where I've seen bees, especially in the spring.
 

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Water. Bees learn to associate smells with forage. A distinctive smell…for example chlorine in swimming pools…can attract a lot of bees. True story. In my backyard are several clumps of liriope. A couple of neighborhood, male dogs frequently compete with one another marking one particular clump. That clump has a noticeable….fragrance. Guess which clump the bees come to each morning to forage for water (dew)?
 

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Bees need protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in their diet. Dust, ashes, mud and seed husks all can be mixed in with pollen to provide the missing ingredients that are needed for complete development of brood and sustaining mature bees.
 

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I've read in beekeeping books that you should keep fresh, clean water for bees. But my experience also has been that they prefer "nasty" smelling water. And they are after the disolved salts in urine.
 

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Perhaps it's the microbes. I think the bees , at certain times, prefer warm water which has been heated by the sun,....in moist leaves, wet darker mulch, decomposing manure piles , as mentioned above - "nasty" smelling water that must have tons of microbes brewing in it. We're just beginning to understand the importance of microbes within the bees system of food gathering. :)
 

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Butterflys love our goat manure. Beautiful, graceful, flying flowers sucking up the liquid stuff of goat poop! Must be the minerals. Probably the same for the bees, minerals. At least I don't see my bees on the manure pile!! I'd have to think twice about the honey!!
 

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My guess is that they are after the mycelium. Its the whitish growth caused by decompsition of leaves and organic matter. For the sake of discussion, mycelium is the start of mushrooms. It is the (usually) whitish growth in most compost piles. Not sure if bees use it for a pollen substitute or what though.

"Mycelium is vital in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for its role in the decomposition of plant material".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycelium
 

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My ponds leak thru some of the cement and stone construction and facade, so much so that over the years it has built up lime & mineral deposits - their favorite place to water forage over the clear running ponds.
 
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