The Secret Life of Beekeepers (Part 1: What’s the buzz)

I didn’t even know my friend Ann and her husband Pat kept bees until I saw her Facebook post announcing their hives’ triumphant return from a winter in California.

I also didn’t know that people sent their honey bees to winter in warmer climes.

Or, just how precisely a community of bees works to make the honey I happily drizzle on and into the various tasties I enjoy.

I know now, thanks to Ann’s kind invitation to let me in on the secret life of bee keepers.

It’s hard to say who’s more industrious, the bee colonies themselves, or the people tasked with keeping them safe. I stand in awe of both.

For instance, worker bees are all female and they cycle through five important jobs. For the first three days or so, she works as a house bee, cleaning and polishing honey cells. Then, she gets promoted to nurse bee, during which she feeds the eggs beemilk and beebread. After about 10 days of this, she moves on to wax making and taking charge of all the nectar and pollen stores.

About a week later, she becomes a guard bee and she gets to go outside the hive to chase away intruders. This is the most dangerous part of her life cycle because guard bees willingly die protecting the hive. 

A worker bee’s last job is foraging and these are the bees you see buzzing around your garden collecting nectar and pollen. 

While a worker bee is cycling through all these tasks, her Queen is busy mating with her drones and, as a result of all that friskiness, laying around 2,000 eggs a day.

The beekeepers have equally important (though presumably less lascivious) tasks. They have to monitor and expand the hives as needed, and eventually extract the honey before the queen bee decides the combs are too full and sends her drones out to find a different hive. This is called swarming and it makes for an awkward conversation between neighbors when one has to knock on the door and ask to retrieve the thousands of lost bees hanging under their eaves.

I learned way too much for a single post, so I’m declaring this Bee Week. I hope you’ll buzz back on Wednesday to meet the beekeepers and see them in action.

That little honey bee you see buzzing around your flowers has already performed a lifetime of miracles before she gets to leave the hive and forage.
When it’s time to extract the honey, the beekeepers move slowly and skillyfully so they don’t upset the whole colony. I’ll write more about this on Wednesday. (Also, this photo of beekeeper Paul Kayser is courtesy of fellow beekeeper Pat Delponte. I would have needed an ultra-telephoto lens to pull off this shot.)
My friend Catherine loaned me this beautiful shot of what we think is a worker honey bee out foraging nectar. How cute is she? And how great is this shot?
Also from Catherine (McKenzie Images). A gorgeous shot of a busy bee.
Flight of the bumblebee. (This shot has very little to do with this post. I just thought it was cool. PC: Catherine McKenzie)
The day I watched them harvest the honey, Pat (pictured here), Paul and Eric Toshner extracted 321 pounds of honey. You’ll have to tune in Wednesday to read more about that.

4 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Beekeepers (Part 1: What’s the buzz)

  1. For several decades i have been obsessed with literary representations of bees and bee hives. The Roman Vergil’s Georgics, Book 4 (trans., David Ferry) centrally concerns bee-keeping and bees as a brilliant comparative to our human world. It was written in the 30s B.C.E, when Jesus lived and Vergil read aloud the four books of the Georgics to Julius Caesar. The Georgics have had a huge influence down through the ages on English literature. John Dryden in the seventeenth century did a translation from Latin into English that energized connections to Vergil. And to bees. You might find the fourth book interesting.

  2. Let me know if you didn’t receive my comment about Vergil’s Georgics, Bk 4, that centrally concerns in Roman Times bees as comparatives of the human.

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