Friday, May 23, 2014

The Birds & the Bees

Mr. Peacock loves to hang out in the corner of the yard where the bee hives are. That's been his favorite spot since long before we got the bees, and they seem to be getting along just fine. Today I had to shoo Mr. Peacock out of the way because I had work to do in my bee hive.

Not long ago I would have run fast and far from this many bees all in one place but, through aversion therapy (I took a local beekeeping course),
I've overcome my fear and I'm now the proud caretaker of a colony of thousands of bees.
I say "caretaker" because they are free to all take off for parts unknown at a moment's notice. My job is to keep them happy with their home so they'll stay and make honey for my table!

It's really pretty simple, actually, to put together a colony of bees in a hive. The complicated part comes when you have to let Mother Nature take over and just work with her as best you can. Bees may not like their queen and they'll replace her. All kinds of insect pests can invade and spread viruses and fungi. Neighbors might spray insecticides with wanton abandon, and commercial farmers use all kinds of chemicals and GMO plants. There are lots of challenges ahead for me and my bees but, for now at least, my little colony is thriving and growing!

If you look at this picture, at the bottom of the hive you can see a group of bees in a traffic jam at their hive entrance. It's fun to watch them coming and going, and you might even see a little dance now and then. The box above that door is called the "brood box," and that's where the queen lives. She lays her eggs and the nurses take care of them until they hatch into full grown and ready to fly bees! Some of the bees are foragers, and that's who you see on your flowers. Those bees gather nectar and pollen to take back to the colony. Some bees are nurses that take care of the brood, and then there are the male drones, who don't do anything but eat the honey and hang around waiting to see if they might get "lucky" with a queen someday. 

The box above the brood box is for the bees to store all the honey they will need to feed the colony through the winter. I checked it today, and all the frames inside that honey "super" were being filled nicely...every single one! So, it was time for me to add another "honey super" above that one to make more storage space for the bees' honey. THIS top honey super will be filled with honey for ME! If they fill that one, then I'll add another honey super. The instructor of my bee class showed me one of his established hives that already has seven honey supers stacked one on top of the other. It's a tower! He estimates that he'll get 16 gallons of honey from just that one hive!

The shorter hive to the right of mine belongs to a friend who is keeping his hive at our farm for lack of a good place to have one in his own yard. For some unknown reason, his colony lost its queen and so his bees had to take some time to hatch a new queen. Because of that, they are just a bit farther behind in their brood raising and honey making, but when we went into the brood super early this evening, we found the queen! She was shy and kept running for the underside of the frame, so getting a picture of her wasn't easy. Here's the best I could do. She's the golden one. Of course she is because she's the queen!

I hope you've enjoyed your mini lesson on beekeeping. I'll keep you posted on the honey factory.


  1. I'm so fascinated by your bees! I don't understand about the queen though. If all the bees are honey bees, how does this one particular female become the queen? And how does she change colors?

  2. Well, they start out as an egg that develops into a larva just like all the rest, but then the nurses feed them royal jelly and the magic begins. They are really amazing creatures!