Keeping Bees

     I stand corrected. My somewhat ignorant reference to “raising bees” was met with a raised eyebrow and immediate correction. It’s “bee keeping” or essentially being good stewards of these tiny creatures. And we learned that bees clearly need no help from humans establishing thriving communities. We just benefit from the excess of their extraordinary productivity. Maybe humans could take a few lessons from a busy bee cooperative.

 

I stand corrected. My somewhat ignorant reference to “raising bees” was met with a raised eyebrow and immediate correction. It’s “bee keeping” or essentially being good stewards of these tiny creatures. And we learned that bees clearly need no help from humans establishing thriving communities. We just benefit from the excess of their extraordinary productivity. Maybe humans could take a few lessons from a busy bee cooperative.

     Honeybees are the only insects that produce something that we value enough to eat. And the history of keeping bees and cultivating their honey is ancient. So catching fleeting glimpses of beekeepers’ hives alongside a prairie highway is nothing special; they’re everywhere if you look.

 

Honeybees are the only insects that produce something that we value enough to eat. And the history of keeping bees and cultivating their honey is ancient. So catching fleeting glimpses of beekeepers’ hives alongside a prairie highway is nothing special; they’re everywhere if you look.

      Senior honeybees are the ultimate gatherers, arriving back to the hive laden with brilliant pollen collected on their legs. Worker bees inside the hive will help them brush off their load, freeing them up to head out for more.     A colony of honeybees is all about job sharing within an intricate social structure. With an average lifespan of 40 to 45 days for a summer female worker bee, each will graduate from cleaning and caring for new baby bees (larvae), to producing wax to build more comb to store honey, taking on guard duty for the hive, then seizing their brief freedom late in life to forage for pollen and nectar, doing the essential job of pollinating plants we love. Definitely an example of incredible work ethic.

 

Senior honeybees are the ultimate gatherers, arriving back to the hive laden with brilliant pollen collected on their legs. Worker bees inside the hive will help them brush off their load, freeing them up to head out for more.

A colony of honeybees is all about job sharing within an intricate social structure. With an average lifespan of 40 to 45 days for a summer female worker bee, each will graduate from cleaning and caring for new baby bees (larvae), to producing wax to build more comb to store honey, taking on guard duty for the hive, then seizing their brief freedom late in life to forage for pollen and nectar, doing the essential job of pollinating plants we love. Definitely an example of incredible work ethic.

     Mike Carroll is a bee cop. A longtime St. Paul police officer, he fell into this curious hobby by happenstance. Observing bee keeping from afar when visiting his wife’s family farm in central Minnesota, he ended up at the local community college for enlightenment. Retired now, he has been bee keeping for five years. This season he needed to depose one of his queen bees and place a stronger one on the throne, just a bit of human intervention that might actually benefit the colony. If their queen is a good ruler—she needs a strong genetic constitution—then honey production will be good, providing enough food for the colony over the hard winter months + allowing us greedy humans to harvest a few bucketsful.

 

Mike Carroll is a bee cop. A longtime St. Paul police officer, he fell into this curious hobby by happenstance. Observing bee keeping from afar when visiting his wife’s family farm in central Minnesota, he ended up at the local community college for enlightenment. Retired now, he has been bee keeping for five years. This season he needed to depose one of his queen bees and place a stronger one on the throne, just a bit of human intervention that might actually benefit the colony. If their queen is a good ruler—she needs a strong genetic constitution—then honey production will be good, providing enough food for the colony over the hard winter months + allowing us greedy humans to harvest a few bucketsful.

     There are a couple of reasons why a whisper of smoke helps a beekeeper maintain calm when checking on a hive. One is that the smoke, which is created by burning materials like fallen pine needles, along with a handful of green grass to mute the heat, masks any scent a frightened bee might send to her hive mates that a stranger is nosing around. But Mike told us that it’s also a primitive instinct that if they sense smoke it means fire is close by. So they dive into the hive to take a long drink of honey to fortify themselves if they have to flee. A honeybee with a full tummy is lethargic, like we are after a big meal, and less likely to be aggressive in defense of their home.

 

There are a couple of reasons why a whisper of smoke helps a beekeeper maintain calm when checking on a hive. One is that the smoke, which is created by burning materials like fallen pine needles, along with a handful of green grass to mute the heat, masks any scent a frightened bee might send to her hive mates that a stranger is nosing around. But Mike told us that it’s also a primitive instinct that if they sense smoke it means fire is close by. So they dive into the hive to take a long drink of honey to fortify themselves if they have to flee. A honeybee with a full tummy is lethargic, like we are after a big meal, and less likely to be aggressive in defense of their home.

     A hunky male drone bee (center left) dwarfs the more dainty female workers. Males living in the hive are offspring of the queen and go afield to find virgin queens from other hives to mate with, dying if they are successful. Then as the dark days of winter descend he, along with his brothers, will be ejected from the colony to perish in the harsh weather.

 

A hunky male drone bee (center left) dwarfs the more dainty female workers. Males living in the hive are offspring of the queen and go afield to find virgin queens from other hives to mate with, dying if they are successful. Then as the dark days of winter descend he, along with his brothers, will be ejected from the colony to perish in the harsh weather.

     As Mike introduces the new queen to her new family, he keeps her in a cage until they learn to recognize her scent.

 

As Mike introduces the new queen to her new family, he keeps her in a cage until they learn to recognize her scent.

     Beekeepers intently watch over their hives, being sure they have enough water close by during the warm summer months and monitoring how the honeycomb frames of the “supers” or honey-collecting upper stories of the hive are filling up. The lower part of the stacked hive are the bee condos, where the larvae incubate and honey is deposited into the colony pantry for food. The queen lives there, attended to by her ladies-in-waiting, after leaving her hive to mate with as many as 10 to 12 drones. These encounters are enough to last her for her lifetime of propagating the hive. The key to a healthy colony is an extremely fertile queen.    The queen bee is kept out of the supers, so that only honey we want to eat is deposited into the honeycomb. Mike watches for when each frame is almost completely capped over with beeswax. Honey collection culminates as the late summer goldenrod is in bloom, right around Labor Day weekend in the Midwest.

 

Beekeepers intently watch over their hives, being sure they have enough water close by during the warm summer months and monitoring how the honeycomb frames of the “supers” or honey-collecting upper stories of the hive are filling up. The lower part of the stacked hive are the bee condos, where the larvae incubate and honey is deposited into the colony pantry for food. The queen lives there, attended to by her ladies-in-waiting, after leaving her hive to mate with as many as 10 to 12 drones. These encounters are enough to last her for her lifetime of propagating the hive. The key to a healthy colony is an extremely fertile queen.

The queen bee is kept out of the supers, so that only honey we want to eat is deposited into the honeycomb. Mike watches for when each frame is almost completely capped over with beeswax. Honey collection culminates as the late summer goldenrod is in bloom, right around Labor Day weekend in the Midwest.

     The astonishing hexagonal geometry of honeycomb makes bees all the more fascinating. A bee must consume eight ounces of honey for every one ounce of beeswax it creates—that’s a pretty good investment in home building and an impressively consistent mathematical feat. Over millenniums these insect architects developed a design that makes sense. The hexagonal shape of honeycomb uses the least amount of wax and offers the greatest amount of honey storage, in an efficiently compact space. Genius!

 

The astonishing hexagonal geometry of honeycomb makes bees all the more fascinating. A bee must consume eight ounces of honey for every one ounce of beeswax it creates—that’s a pretty good investment in home building and an impressively consistent mathematical feat. Over millenniums these insect architects developed a design that makes sense. The hexagonal shape of honeycomb uses the least amount of wax and offers the greatest amount of honey storage, in an efficiently compact space. Genius!

     There’s been a lot in the news about the lives of honeybees being in jeopardy. Colony Collapse Disorder appears to be a complicated issue, ranging from environmental dangers from fungicides to parasites. The impact of reduced honeybee populations seriously affects food crops all over the world, since bee pollination is essential. While scientists are discovering more about agricultural practices that endanger bees, our hope is that backyard beekeepers like Mike keep up their good work as stewards of healthy, flourishing colonies.

 

There’s been a lot in the news about the lives of honeybees being in jeopardy. Colony Collapse Disorder appears to be a complicated issue, ranging from environmental dangers from fungicides to parasites. The impact of reduced honeybee populations seriously affects food crops all over the world, since bee pollination is essential. While scientists are discovering more about agricultural practices that endanger bees, our hope is that backyard beekeepers like Mike keep up their good work as stewards of healthy, flourishing colonies.

     Honeybees gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey, with a single bee traveling up to three miles and visiting nearly 100 flowers on one flight out foraging. When a bee finds a good source of nectar it will return to the hive and invite its friends to go party.

 

Honeybees gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey, with a single bee traveling up to three miles and visiting nearly 100 flowers on one flight out foraging. When a bee finds a good source of nectar it will return to the hive and invite its friends to go party.

     The complex, lingering sweetness of honey and its sensual texture on the tongue makes it so much more than a common condiment. Single source or “monofloral” honeys are beloved, often because they identify a specific geographical location. Acacia, Orange Blossom, Cloverleaf, Rosemary, Sunflower, Eucalyptus, Lavender, and Chestnut honeys each bring a taste of home depending on where you’re from. And not much is better than a nice drizzle of amber honey over a pungent blue cheese--sweet, salty, savory.     Besides being a luscious sweetener, honey has long been used medicinally and as a beauty treatment. All in all, the opportunity to be concierges for honeybees and enjoy their largesse is something to be grateful for.

 

The complex, lingering sweetness of honey and its sensual texture on the tongue makes it so much more than a common condiment. Single source or “monofloral” honeys are beloved, often because they identify a specific geographical location. Acacia, Orange Blossom, Cloverleaf, Rosemary, Sunflower, Eucalyptus, Lavender, and Chestnut honeys each bring a taste of home depending on where you’re from. And not much is better than a nice drizzle of amber honey over a pungent blue cheese--sweet, salty, savory. 

Besides being a luscious sweetener, honey has long been used medicinally and as a beauty treatment. All in all, the opportunity to be concierges for honeybees and enjoy their largesse is something to be grateful for.