Back to Bees

Back to Bees

Last weekend was really the first in a while that had known the following combination:

  • relatively calm (no travel)
  • fewer responsibilities (classes are now finished)
  • warm weather (upwards of 19-20˚C / 65-70˚F)

That meant a Saturday at church for me and the first mow of the season. The grass was long enough that it took two passes: the first to knock the top few inches off and the second to tidy up. I didn’t do them back to back however, after pass #1, I took time to dive into my bee-hives and take stock of how the winter had gone…

2 out of 8

Not entirely to my surprise, only two hives, of the initial eight that I’d gone into winter with, survived the cooler months.

Winter losses are not at all uncommon, but admittedly, to lose six seems a bit high. When I looked into them however, only one had died of starvation (you can tell, because there are a lot of bees in there, and they all have their heads in the cells, as though they’re looking for food). It’s not a pretty sight and is a real shame… the other hives were just…. empty. Strange. I don’t have an explanation for it.

This, again though, is not entirely uncommon among beekeepers and is one of the reasons why it’s rarely advised to only keep a single hive of bees. If you just have one, and that colony dies over the winter, you’re out of luck, and either have to purchase bees from another beekeeper or cross your fingers for a wild swarm. If you still have a hive or two, it’s easy to pull a 2-3 frames (as long as you have brood, eggs, nectar & pollen) and start a new colony.

My two remaining colonies were chock-a-block full, so that’s exactly what I did yesterday… started two new colonies.

Slightly Miraculous

This week, I found myself thinking about the slight miraculousness of what’s currently happening inside those two new hives.

  • Lock ’em up: Once you put those few frames in, you have to lock the bees in the box by closing the entrance… otherwise, as is their nature, all of the mature bees will simply return to their original hive. The problem with that is that those bees are needed to keep the eggs, larvae & brood warm, so they continue to develop. After 3 days of being locked in, their GPS gets reset, and they’ll consider this new hive, home!
    (hence the importance of ensuring there is nectar on the frames… it gives them food since they can’t initially get out to forage).
  • The Magic: Within about 4-hours of being in that box, all the bees will have realized that there is no longer a queen bee present in the colony. They’ll scurry around like mad, looking for eggs or for larvae that are younger than three days old. They typically find a few and will begin the process of raising a new queen. They do this by extending the cell housing the egg and piling on the royal jelly.

    Note: all baby bees get a bit of royal jelly as part of their diet at some point. Queens are fed ONLY royal jelly… it’s what gives them ‘the royal touch’.

    Once that egg hatches, it will feed on the little pool of royal jelly that the nurse bees have surrounded it with and once the bees have closed up her cell… she’ll develop for about 16 days before hatching.

    I call it ‘the magic’ because as they do that, they are in the process of solidifying their own future survival. We beekeepers are the secondary beneficiaries of this marvelously created little insect.
  • The Danger Zone: The new queens (there are usually several) will hatch and will usually duke it out until the strongest has killed the others (there can only be one queen bee per hive if things are running normally). After a few days, that young queen will go out on her mating flight (usually the only time in her life that she leaves the hive), mate with 10-20 drones (this happens in the air, and the drones die after mating with her – nature can be cruel), come back and begin laying – usually around 30 days after the process began. Once you have a laying queen… all is well.

    If I call it the danger zone, it’s because occasionally something can happen to that young queen outside the hive… that opens another kettle of worms which I’ll go into another time.

A Lesson to Learn?

When a beekeeper takes resources from one colony, to form another, we are essentially artificially imitating nature… it’s like an artificial swarm; not entirely, but in part.

What’s amazing to me is that those bees, if the required elements are present (brood, eggs, pollen & nectar) are fully equipped to recover from what is, for them, a traumatic event – the loss of the queen. They just look at the resources they have and get to work re-establishing a new normal. It takes time, but once engaged, the process runs its course and within roughly 30 days, all is settled in the hive again, and their future is, for now, secured barring some other tragedy.

I admire the bees…

They just set to work without moaning, complaining, despairing, wondering, regretting, fearing. Everyone has a job and they just get to work.

We humans are a messier lot.
(Translation: “I” am a messier lot … or is it just “a lot messier”?).

This gift of intellect that we have, as humans, is a double edged sword. Not only are we able to use it to analyze & problem solve a hundred different ways (that’s a good thing), but we also tend to use it – unproductively and prolongedly I might add – to dwell on problems that are not yet solved.

… and we ruminate… and dwell… and mourn… and sometimes resent.
(or is it just me?)

It’s what makes us unique among creation but it can be our own cross to bear at the same time. I know I’ve got to train my brain a little bit more so that the process of simply getting about business / getting to work, like the bees, uncluttered by unhelpful thoughts & feelings, becomes a bit more second nature.

  • Part of that work is spiritual: Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.” In his letter to the churches of Galatia he encourages us to pass our thoughts through a filter… giving room to thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praise-worthy, and not leaving a whole lot of room for the rest. (Galatians 4:8).
  • Part of that work is… something else: I’m not sure what to call it, but I’ve listened to a number of podcasts recently by Mo Gawdat, an Egyptian author who was formerly a highly placed executive at Google. He talks about getting back to a place of happiness after losing his 21-year old son to a series of very preventable mistakes during what should’ve been a fairly routine medical procedure.

    He has some very keen insights on managing emotions, dealing with recurring thoughts (“looping thoughts” in his words) in such a ways as to move away from the unproductive rumination that only reinforces any negative emotions we associate with circumstances, and move toward something more productive… something more positive.

    Here’s a 20-min talk he did in 2022 entitled The Small Voice in Your Head
    (be forewarned… the guy who introduces him has the energy of someone introducing a WWF wrestling match!)

Longer than expected…

I’ll end off here. What started off as simply a post where I marvel at the wonder of these little creatures that I love, has turned into something more. I hope that you have found something useful in today’s ramblings, or at the very least can share my appreciation for the beauty of the bees, and marvel with me.

I’m so glad to share a few minutes with you…
Thanks for stopping by!

6 responses

  1. I just wonder at the marvels of nature including the bees thank you for the insight into how I get my honey, Mike…it was interesting…I am lucky I get fairly regular gifts of raw honey as everyone around me knows how much I love the stuff … 🙂

    • It’s so true Carol… they are indeed wonder-full! My wife just kind of chuckles when I say I’m going down for a “quick check” on the bees. She knows that I easily get lost in them… watching them, contemplating them, listening to the hum and smelling the sweet smell of the hive. I highly recommend keeping a hive or two if space & circumstance allows.

  2. Pingback: 7 Days ’til the Wedding « AIM Long

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