The Buzz on Honeybees

| 9/4/2015 3:49:00 PM


Above: Checking the hives with an intern — the bees were in a good mood that day. Photo by Ann Berlage

Honeybees, on the whole, really are a peaceful lot. The queen is busy all day laying eggs (up to 2,000 eggs per day in summertime), with her own personal court grooming and feeding her. The drones (male bees) don’t even have a stinger and loaf about the hive waiting to be fed. Around 5:00 in the afternoon, the drones leave the hive to fly, hoping that there might be a young queen bee passing by on her mating flight.

The worker bees (young females who did not develop fully to queen-ness) do everything else. Nurse bees take care of the eggs and larvae growing in the cells, others fan the entrance to keep the hive cool. Some of the bees build wax, take nectar from the field bees, and pack pollen into cells that the nurse bees will mix with nectar as food for the baby bees. Field bees race back and forth from flowers to the hive, bringing nectar to make honey, pollen for food, and tree resin for propolis, which they use to glue any cracks in the hive.

I’ll be picking zucchinis while honeybees buzz busily beside me. I’m doing my work, and they’re doing theirs, so it’s really not an issue. If I were to grab one and threaten to squish it, then we’d have a problem. But the bees are working on the flower end, and I’m harvesting the fruit (zucchini) that their fuzzy little bodies helped to pollinate. A third of all the food we eat requires insect pollination — the bulk of which is carried by honeybees. That makes these insects an important part of any sustainable farming operation.

But as far as livestock goes, honeybees are not domestic. They can survive in the wild quite well in warmer regions (overwintering in the Northwoods without human help, though, would be almost impossible), collect everything they need from nature, and don’t appreciate being bothered. So why all the fuss about keeping bees?

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