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.