“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should,
their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
Life in the Hive
It has been one month since we picked up our fuzzy little friends from Worcester Honeybee Farm, and roughly 3 and ½ weeks since the queen escaped her transport box. According to all that we have read, queens start laying eggs immediately after they break out of the box. In his book, First Lessons in Beekeeping, Keith Delaplane describes the 3 week mark as a significant milestone in the life of a newly established hive. This is when the first worker bees who were born in the new hive hatch and begin their various jobs supporting the hive.
The Baby Boom Buzz
Worker bees are fully developed and emerge from their cells twenty days after the queen lays them, and drones – the male honeybees – emerge twenty-four days after the queen lays the eggs (Marchese, 2009). Although we have not yet opened the hive to get a good look for ourselves, it is clearly evident that there has been a huge uptick in the population of the hive within the past couple of days. On a bright, warm day the number of bees flying in and out of the hive is striking! They all seem so orchestrated in their comings and goings, not unlike air traffic control at a busy airport. Upon closer inspection, it is clear that the bees are varying in size, while some are teeny-tiny, others are much larger. The larger bees are those who are coming back to the hive with thick yellow saddle bags of pollen on their legs. We assume this indicates a healthy hive where new bees are being hatched, and the honey production is continuing.
Golden Saddle Bags
Forager bees, like the one in the photo above, fly up to 10 miles away from the hive to collect pollen. They carry their gold back to the hive in a beautifully unique way. If you can get up close and personal, you will notice what looks like gold bolero pants or golden saddle bags on their hind legs. In her book, Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper, C. Marina Marchese describes the life cycle and responsibilities of the worker bee:
“Each worker specializes in one specific task at each stage of her brief life. The first few days after she emerges from her cell she serves the hive as a house bee and cell cleaner Se inspects, cleans and polishes the cells in which the queen lays her eggs. She then begins her duty of feeding older larvae with pollen and nectar brought into the hive by more mature worker bees…At about twenty days old, the worker bee will become a guard bee, stationed at the entrance of the hive. Guards admit returning bees only if the bees are part of their hive. Guard bees also reject old or diseased bees and drive out the drones in the fall. Guard duty is a worker’s last job inside the hive before she becomes a forager bee. . . A worker bee does not begin foraging for pollen and nectar until she is three weeks old.”
The Busy Bee
The worker bee, with all of the duties and responsibilities, literally works herself to death by wearing out her wings and through sheer exhaustion. When an adult bee dies inside the hive, the undertaker bees are tasked with removing the dead bodies. Through all of this effort, a single worker bee makes only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime! So the more bees that live in a hive – the healthier and more productive that hive is (Marchese).
Bearing witness to the activities of honeybees and their hive has been immensely rewarding already, and we would highly recommend it to others. Contrary to popular belief, these little creatures have been very docile and discreet. We’ll see if they stay that way when we break into their hive for a close-up inspection of the honeycomb within the next several days!
Carpenter, Novella, and Willow Rosenthal. The Essential Urban Farmer. New York, N.Y.: Penguin, 2011. Print.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. The College, 1963. Film. (Quote)
Delaplane, Keith S. First Lessons in Beekeeping. Hamilton, Ill.: Dadant & Sons, 2007. Print.
Marchese, C. Marina. Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009. Print.