Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Worker, drone and queen have strange lives in hive

Honeybees are not at all like people. The queen doesn’t reign; she lays eggs - maybe thousands of them on a busy day. She puts one egg in each hexagonal wax cell and has the unique choice of laying a fertile egg to produce a female bee or a nonfertile egg to produce a male bee, a drone. She almost always chooses the female worker. The colony needs thousands of workers but only a handful of drones. Having too many drones means more work, so the worker bees kill off some and roll their bodies off the hive’s front porch.

A bee colony might lose its queen by swarming or accidentally. Workers could then develop a queen in a few weeks by giving special care and feeding to a recently deposited egg and by providing ample space for the queen’s long, tapered body to develop within the cell. The queen bee is not a ruler; she’s easier to locate in the mass of worker bees because she looks a little like a wasp. Her stinger, reserved for other queens, has almost no barbs and can therefore be used time and time again. A worker bee loses its life after it stings one time because internal organs are attached to the barb.

The wonderful pollination services of honeybees occur when they are going about their routine activities that come naturally. However, the business of 18-wheeler trucks hauling millions of them crowded together might someday get through to those bees. It wouldn’t surprise me if they all took off to the woods to live in hollow trees as their ancestors lived.

Our family once had bees making honey in our kitchen! I bought a one-frame observation hive like the one we saw at a festival and installed it on a high shelf in my dish cupboard. With large-diameter glass tubes, the bees’ way out included two turns before the exit through a small hole I drilled in the wooden window frame. Outdoors, I nailed a small landing "porch" for worker bees returning from the fields, their bodies heavy with nectar and/or pollen.

I selected one active frame from our apiary; it was heavy with honey and bees. It had a brood, open cells, food, nectar, day-old eggs and hundreds of workers - everything except a queen. This colony, needing a queen, could use a day-old egg to begin the development of its very own queen! We left the frame’s lightweight plywood covers over the hive glass for about a week and didn’t touch them. If we were lucky, these bees would start a queen each day for three consecutive days. If the first queen was a good one, they’d tear up the other two.

We were delighted when we saw worker bees walking upside down inside that 2-inch-diameter tube! I yelled for Chub and the kids, and we watched bees finding their way out of the kitchen tube into open range. Because bees make a "beeline" for territory far from their hive, we had no problem with picnicking or barbecuing in the front yard. Children played there barefoot with no problems. Most guests did not know they were within a few yards of an active bee colony unless we told them.

Each day there was activity in that tube as bees learned to walk straight out in it. Finally we removed one board for a short, quiet look. Things were OK: three queen cells, workers storing pollen and nectar. Our own honeybees were "making do" in their new environment, and we were delighted.

Later I made several visits to schools, dressed in my bee hat and veil, long gloves, and white coveralls to show the bees and tell how they make honey. The children and I enjoyed that.

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