She works hard for the honey

It was a beautiful spring day, the first time I truly became a beekeeper. In my previous life working at a nature center, I often assisted the phenomenal 86-year-old gentleman who took care of the center’s five hives. Normally it was a privilege to help him out. But not this day.

Mr. Harris arrived unexpectedly and announced that his volunteer had backed out at the last minute. Offering to help, I learned three important lessons about bees: 1) They LOVE hair gel. 2) They love dark clothing. 3) After the first sting, a pheromone is released that tells nearby bees to attack the intruder.

Six skull stings and three hand stings later, I had joined the ranks of the initiated. And I was hooked.

Yes, I had to sleep for three nights holding ice packs to reduce the swelling in my Stay Puft marshmallow hands. But I didn’t care. Having worked many times with normally docile bees, I wasn’t daunted by one bad experience. Had I been watching more closely, it would have been obvious that robber bees were stealing honey, making our bees unusually defensive. I invaded their space and couldn’t blame them for protecting their turf. And frankly, I was fascinated by the collective mind that was clearly in control of the situation.

More surprising facts about honeybees:

  • About one-third of American food depends on honeybee pollination.
  • Worker bees are all female.
  • The average worker bee produces 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
  • Male honey bees (also called drones) have no stinger and do no work at all. Mating is their only capability, and they even have to be fed by the worker bees.
  • Honey bees communicate with one another by dancing.
I miss my girls an awful lot, so a friend is building us a top-bar hive — the simplest, most-sustainable model for chemical-free beekeeping — and we’ll set it up in the orchard once the trees are established.
If you’d like to learn more about beekeeping, check out these sweet videos produced by someone I respect a great deal, Dr. James Tew, professor at both Ohio State and Auburn University. And if you’re a local, stop by the next Chattahoochee Valley Beekeepers Association meeting to learn more about these mesmerizing dancing queens.
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