Keeping bees is both an art, and a craft. It teaches you the benefits of patience, organisation, record keeping, hygiene, and safe food handling. In a good year you’ll get honey to eat and wax to make into polish, soap and candles too.What more could you want from a hobby?
The more you learn, the more fascinating the whole subject becomes. Here are a few facts to get you started:
Once a queen bee has been on one or more mating flights, she never leaves her hive again unless it’s to move house as part of a swarm. Queens are laying machines, and do nothing but eat and reproduce. Worker bees have different jobs at each stage of their life. The youngest keep the hive clean, and feed developing larvae. Once they’re a week old, young bees switch to taking in and storing pollen and nectar from older ones returning from foraging flights. Seven days later, the youngsters start building comb. When they’re around a fortnight old, they’re promoted to guard duty at the hive entrance. After that, they spend the rest of their lives gathering nectar and pollen.
It’s been estimated that a hive of bees must fly a total of over 55,000 miles to create one pound of honey!
While queens live for several years, worker bees born between spring and mid summer are worn out after a few weeks. Those hatched in late summer live longer, so they can look after the queen and colony over the winter.
My bee hives
Worker bees are all females, and outnumber their brothers (drones) by thousands to one. Unlike their sisters, drones hatch from unfertilised eggs so they have a grandfather, but no father. A male bee’s only job is to go out on mating flights during lovely weather, and fertilize passing queens. It’s a good life, but a short one: successful drones die after mating, and unmated ones are thrown out from the hives at the end of summer to starve, as they’ve served their purpose. They’d be nothing but a drain on the bee family’s resources of stored honey.
It’s no wonder P G Wodehouse named Bertie Wooster’s club The Drones!
Never feed shop-bought honey to any bee. It may contain traces of disease which are completely harmless to humans, but death to bees.
Swarms are a scary sight, but it’s simply the way the population increases, and moves home. Scout bees spy out the local area, and lead the way. When the queen leaves the hive, all the flying bees follow her. A colony of the youngest bees, eggs, larvae, and a new young queen remain to continue the process. If you spot a swarm and you’re sure they’re honeybees, beekeepers will be glad to help. In the UK, the British Beekeeping Association http://www.bbka.org.uk/help/do_you_have_a_swarm.php will put you in touch with your nearest expert.