For My Friends: A little bit about bees

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Many people often ask why or how I got into beekeeping. The most honest answer I can tell you is because I love tiny things. Tiny cups are great for drinking juice in. Likewise tiny espresso spoons are good for large soups and not for savoring flavor but rather because its funny. I always say, why have it big when you can have it small…
Landscapes are great and all but true beauty in the world is seen from the tiny details that comprise the big picture. The forest landscape is beautiful, it smells great and one often feels calmed by the overall energy. Try zooming in the next time you’re in a forest. You might find that there is more adventure to witness….
To further explain my affections with bees I must say I am attracted to the order of Hymenoptera… Do you hear crickets when I say that? Hymentoptera Is the order of Ants, bees, wasps and termites and they’re awesome because they are known as superorganisms; an organism comprised of many, tiny organisms. It’s not the individual bee that is badass, it is the mechanics, the labor and actions of the colony in all it’s entirety.When I see a single bee on a flower I know it comes from a huge family of about 40,000. I’ll know that that same bee is between 22 and 45 days old because from birth to death, bees perform altruistic tasks based on their age.

  • 1-2 days is spent performing domestic duties like housekeeping; cleaning and tending to the baby brood.
  • 3-11 days they continue to feed the growing larvae.
  • It’s not until they reach day 12-17 that their tasks become more laborious by building wax comb, carrying food around and cleaning out dead bee bodies from the hive. (There was a time I was sitting in front of my hive on a tiny chair of course. There I saw a bee on the landing pad of the hive pick up a dead bee, carry it across the yard and actually dump it into a large garbage can! It was totally haphazard but pretty funny nonetheless).
  •  18-21 days old they perform guard duties, protecting the hive from predators
  • Finally at 22-45 days or until death, the old bee goes out of the home to forage, collecting pollen, water and nectar to feed it’s family.

Every family needs a home, some like big homes, small homes, old homes or new ones. A bees home is called a beehive; an enclosed structure in which bees live, raise their young, store food and protect themselves from natures harsh elements. Natural beehives out in nature are often found in hollowed-out trees or in between the decaying walls of old buildings. Domesticated honeybees live in man-made beehives and they look like stacked wooden boxes.

Each hive is set up like this:
The two most important elements of a beehive are the brood chamber and the honey super.The bottom box called a deep super is known as the brood chamber. The queen lives there, laying her eggs into wax cells located on any of the 10 frames. The youngest bees feed the larvae, tend to the queen and make sure the living conditions are ultra clean. On top of the deep super sits a metal cage called a queen excluder, this keeps only the queen from entering other parts of the hive. Worker bees move up and down through the hive but the queen stays in the chamber.The shallow super has the same amount of frames as the brood chamber. The only difference is that instead of queen and brood (the babies) on each frame, there are adult bees on frames laden with delicious wax capped honey. To keep honey from dripping all over the place, honey comb is capped with a thin white layer of wax.My job as a beekeeper is to monitor the hive, collect honey when it get’s too full, acknowledge signs of distressed hives and ultimately prevent swarming.The biggest concern for a beekeeper is when swarming occurs. Swarming means that the colony detects trouble in the home, the existing queen departs with half the population of both bees and honey to form a new colony in a better home.

Think of swarming like this: Your fridge is full of valuable and yummy food like extra aged moose cheese, truffle oil and condiments and herbs that took months to stock up. A few people in your household decide to move out because it’s too crowded with limited space to live, their lifestyle doesn’t suit the accommodations and an upgrade is wanted, bitchy roommates, or their mother sucks and they’re in search of a new one… With the decision to leave home, they take all that is good in the fridge with them, leaving you with crusty capped French’s mustard, dried out crepe shells and jars of homemade green drink nobody wants to consume. The loss is not crippling by any means but you kinda wish it didn’t happen.

Note: Swarming is more sever than above analogy.Reason’s why bees swarm:

  • Congestion
  • Unbalanced numbers of different aged workers.
  • Overheating (lack of noon time shade)
  • Defective or old combs (those with too many drone cells or irregular cells, thick damaged, not suitable for queen to lay in, reducing broodnest capacity and increasing congestion).
  • Queen’s egg laying become restricted as empty cells are filled with honey.
  • Inclement weather, which keeps bees confined to the hive and causes congestion (bees hang out of colony)
  • Failing queen *Instead of superseding the queen and colony may swarm*
  • Decline of queen pheromone production – the level of pheromone being distributed throughout a highly populous colony is insufficient to control swarm preparations.
  •  Genetics or race of bees
  •  Idle nurse bees

Signs of swarming:

  • An abundance of food
  • High worker population
  •  Formation of many queen cells (swarm cells)
  • *Shortly after all swarm cells are sealed, the colony will cast a swarm

Recommendations to prevent swarm:

  • Buy non swarm stock
  • Ventilate to increase airflow within hive
  • Inner or outer cover can be propped up
  • Screened bottom boards can be placed on top of the bottom board; this gives bees more ventilation and can be kept on the hive year round.
  • *note* Above might encourage robbing when flow ends.
  • Requeen any colony that has an old queen.

The sweetest reward we get from bees is their honey! Natures gold that not only tastes good but has some cool health benefits too. It naturally suppresses coughs, aids in sleep, is good for burns and skin in general, helps heal wounds and boosts immunity.

The process in which bees make honey is quite interesting. First a bee lands on a flower, sticks her proboscis or tongue into the flower to reach the nectar source, sucks out nectar and stores it in an internal sac called the honey stomach.

While the bee is in flight, on its way home to deliver the nectar, the transformation into honey starts in the stomach of the bee. The enzymes in the honey stomach help transform the sucrose of nectar into other energy-rich sugars such as glucose and fructose.

Time to deliver the goods! After a long journey out of the hive, the forager bee goes home to transfer the nectar collected and regurgitate it into the mouth of a house bee.

Nectar has a huge water content, up to 80%. The house bees reduce the moisture component of the mixture by ingesting and regurgitating it. After this second transfer, essentially bees puke it into the honeycomb cells. Ew. But yum!

After this, to reduce the water content further the bees do what is called fanning. When the bees decide the honey is ready, it is then ‘capped’ with white wax. Capping on frames are a signal for beekeepers to remove surplus honey.

Honey from the hive, my biggest reward.

I am only beginning to scratch the surface of this noble journey as a beekeeper. I feel the bees will always show me something new and will always take me to interesting places. I look forward to my future adventures among bees.