Thursday, February 21, 2013

Well, I’ll Bee…!

Not only do honey bees fascinate me, they are good for our gardens and it is a real blessing to have a personal stash of sweetener on hand.  While I’ve used honey in baking for years, studies show that using honey from your own locale has additional health benefits.  So… I’m gonna try my hand at beekeeping this year!  Before I start, however there is so much to learn and it always helps to cement things in my head if I can share what I’m learning!  So… let’s talk honey bees!

There are three castes to a honey bee hive: the queen, the drones and the workers.

  • There is only one queen per hive.  Her job is to sustain the next generation of honey bees and she does so by producing 1,000 – 3,000 eggs per day!  She has a stinger, but without a barb.  While she may use her stinger to ward off other queens, she rarely stings the beekeeper.

  • The drones are the males.  Having no stinger, they cannot sting you or your livestock.  Their only job is to go from hive to hive mating with virgin queens.  Once a virgin queen has mated with several drones during her mating flight, she will lay eggs the rest of her life without having to mate again!  While this may seem convenient for the queen, the poor drone is no longer needed.  Consequently, the worker bees ban drones from the hive in the fall leaving them to die in the cold elements.  I suppose the drones might consider this a blessing since there are only 300 - 3,000 fellas per hive.  The rest are all female! J

  • One hive consists of 60,000-80,000 worker bees in the summer.  Worker bees are always female, but do not lay eggs unless the hive becomes queenless.  Even then, the worker bee produces unfertilized eggs.  While she tries, she isn’t able to keep the hive alive without a queen.  The worker bee is born without wings.  After proving herself worthy by being a faithful worker in the hive for 21 days, she is granted wings.  She is often seen out and about foraging for pollen, water, nectar and propolis, a substance from trees used to mend holes in the hive.  The little worker bee is so devoted to the queen that she will work herself to death in 35-45 days.  The worker bee has a barbed stinger and is given only one chance to use it.  If it is any condolence to the receiver of her wrath, she dies after she stings.  I wonder if she knows that she better give it her best shot?

So what happens if the only queen dies?  How do honey bees keep populating?  The worker bees choose another queen from their clan.  They feed the honored one royal jelly which is made of pre-chewed pollen that is mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee's head.  While this nutritional mixture is fed to all the larvae for the first two days of their lives, the “chosen one” continues to eat only royal jelly for the rest of her life.  This “super food” causes her to grow one and a half times larger and is what makes it possible for her to lay so many eggs.  As a result of her royal diet, “The First Lady” lives forty times longer than those on a less fortified diet.

How much honey does a hive produce per year?
That’s a difficult question to find a definite answer for.
From what I’ve read, we can expect from 50-250 pounds of honey per year!
Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

While the honeybee hive is perennial, it is quite inactive during the winter.  In fact, we had a beekeeper who kept his hives on our property in Iowa through the warm weather.  In the late fall, he would take the hives to California so that the bees could continue to produce honey.  If hives are left in the cold climate, the honeybees survive by clustering for warmth inside the hive.  Regardless of the outside temperature, it remains 93 degrees in the center of the winter cluster.  Before the winter chill hits, the worker bees have collected enough honey and water for the hive to survive the winter.  Wiser than most people, I’d say!

Fun facts, huh?  I hope that, like me, as I learned these facts, you found yourself saying, “Well, I’ll Bee…!” J

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.


P.S.  Please feel free to contact me with questions, thoughts, topics you’d like to ponder or to read past articles at:  You may also contact me at:
             Bonnie Jaeckle
             In Search of the Whole-Hearted Life
             Diagonal Progress
             505 Jefferson St.
             Diagonal, IA 50845

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