Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Buy millions of honeybees, but you’ll never ‘own’ one

On summer evenings, Chub and I sometimes sat close to his beehives and watched hundreds of adolescent female worker bees glide in on the landing boards, their leg baskets heavy with pollen. More bees landed and waddled, all with full pollen baskets on their legs. Those workers and hundreds of others had flown, landed, waddled and disappeared into a narrow slot between the landing board and the white wooden hive frame; this was day’s end, and all of the field bees were bringing in their last loads at dusk.

Chub’s 21 hive boxes looked alike to me, but with some kind of bee magic, every worker flew directly to her own hive. Owners work to keep bees happy because they can’t be fenced in. No one can prove ownership of certain bees. Chub learned a lot about honey production when his family had a few hives in the side yard of their farm home in Illinois. I knew nothing about bees, so I took a class in the horticulture department at the University of Missouri. I learned that producing honey is not the most important thing honeybees do. Going about their chores, they brush other plants and release tiny pollen bits; that accidentally pollinates many other plants!

When our Walt and Nancy were grade-school age, we drove to Hamilton, Ill., to visit a company that sold supplies for beekeepers and also live bees. We were curious about their claim to have developed a "tamer" breed of bee. They showed us many uses for beeswax and how machine printing of the wax sheets saves time for bees to do housekeeping, guarding, gathering, grooming of the queen and other chores. Bees collect nectar, pollen, water or propolis as needed. Royal Jelly is not "collected" - it’s produced in glands in worker bees’ foreheads. Propolis is not for eating; it’s for sticking hive lids down and repairing cracks in the hives. Bees’ activities move tiny pollen particles - actually spreading them to similar plants. Pollination is fertilization and is directly related to increasing world food supplies.

Although pollen is also distributed by the wind, humming birds, wild bees, butterflies and many others, honeybees do the best job. Farmers and orchard owners -big producers - increase profits by "renting" bees to fertilize certain crops! How do they rent honeybees? Watch for huge trucks loaded with stacked white boxes - in orchards, fields or on the highway. Beehives are securely attached to the trucks, and no unloading or loading is necessary.

Growers pay well to rent bees for pollination; moving bees is not easy. We bought bees and equipment from a woman 125 miles away. Two hours later, dark field bees were still finding their hives, which were already loaded on the open bed of our pickup truck. Late field bees still came, finding their closed homes on the truck.

At 2 a.m. we stopped to eat supper, and a man stormed into the restaurant yelling, "Somebody go out and rescue your bees! They’re all getting away!" He was mistaken. More bees had caught up with us as we ate! The loose bees stayed with us. They were with the others the next day when Chub tossed grass cuttings over each small outlet to begin their final transition from Illinois to Missouri.

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