Here’s what I tell people when they ask me about my bees. The hive is mostly females, the Queen and all her daughters. There are the occasional males, drones, but they are few in number.
The hive is all about the Queenand she is all about the hive! And it is self sustaining. The female bees, care for the Queen, feed and groom her, care for the hive as they mature and eventually become foragers. They scour the neighbourhood for pollen and nectar, bringing it back to create honey and pollen cakes for the hive.
It is endlessly fascinating to watch the bees coming and going! They arrive from their foraging with huge pockets of pollen on their hips, or stores of nectar. They fly in and out all day long. At some points in the day their are hundreds of bees moving in and out of the entrance, creating a lovely hum of noise!
When you open the hive, a warm sweet scent of honey and bees wafts up to meet you. Thousands of bees are busy drawing wax comb, making honey, feeding the young, making pollen cakes, being born, dying. It’s a universe unto itself.
The food stores of honey and pollen will see the hive through the winter. The Queen at peak summer season lays thousands of eggs a day but slows that rate in the winter, always with the innate sense of food ratio to population! She wanders through the hive, checking on stores, laying eggs, surveying her domain. She is regal and lovely.
One fascinating activity is the undertakers who clean out the hive and carry the dead to the edge of the hive entrance, then off into the surrounding area to hide the bodies in the grass. Wasps, carnivorous as they are, often hover somewhere near by, like thieves, waiting to steal a corpse away!
Meanwhile, the drones do nothing to help the hive! They eat, they wander around, completely indolent. They live for one purpose only, to leave the hive and mate with a Queen from away, from another hive! They die during the mating. Their brothers left in the hive will face certain death as well for when winter comes and food resources are a concern, the females will push all the drones out of the hive to die.
I can and do spend hours watching all the action, listening to the buzzing, watching the weather, observing which plants are favourites.
While all this lovely activity is going on in and around the hive, the bees in their wandering and gathering are pollinating the food we eat, the food wildlife around us depend on and helping to sustain human beings as well as their own little microcosm. It’s a process we mostly take for granted.
Climate change and human behaviour, pesticides, noise, habitat loss are all major challenges for the plucky little bees to manage. The more time I spend with them the more frustrated and sad I am about those challenges!