Basics of Bee Keeping

 For most people, Bees induce one of two reactions, the first being – OH MY GOODNESS IT'S A BEE – IT'S GOING TO STING ME !!!!!, they then attempt to swat the Bee, and fulfil their own prophesy. For the majority of other people, their response is, 'it's a Bee, that's ok', and then there are those of us who go, 'it's a Bee, how lovely'.

Let's deal with the first group first, as far as I am aware, there is no Bee in the world with your name on it. A Bee does not leave the hive with the express wish to find you and sting you on any given day. Yes they can sting and when they do, it hurts, and for those who say that I, as a Beekeeper, must get used to it, believe me, I have not found that to be true.

But, if you think about it, I, as a Bee Keeper, disturb 3, 4, or 5 hives a week all with upward of 10,000 bees in them and I probably only get stung two or three times a year. It shows, how, if approached properly, Bees in general, are not all that bad. They are much maligned and people who get stung often blame Bees, when it is a Wasp that is the culprit. A Bee stings as a final defence, it understands it will die if it stings, so it is a last resort. If it stings it is because it has felt threatened, the old adage of 'leave them alone and they will leave you alone' is 99.9% true. And yes, if they want to sting me, they manage to get through the material of the suit I wear.

For the second group, thank heavens you do not over react unlike the first group, that means you are not a prime candidate to be stung; at least, not by a Bee, I can't say the same for Wasps of course. But what I would like you to do is move more towards us in the third group. I am not saying you need to become a Bee Keeper, just become Bee friendly, rather than Bee noncommittal.

After reading this very simplified piece, I hope, by understanding the hardworking Bee, you will lean towards us in the third group. Even those of you who suffer from Anaphylactic shock, will, hopefully be more Bee friendly.

Let's get the Gender stereotypes over with right at the beginning; the boss of the hive is female, she is the Queen and controls the other Bees by producing pheromones to keep the hive working hard to support her young. There is only one Queen per hive, she is the only Bee to lays eggs, and by a marvel of science she can even chose what sex of Lava will come out of the egg she lays.

The bulk of Bees in the Hive are Female, they do all of the work, from cleaning, tending the young Lava, guarding the Hive and collecting the Pollen and Nectar required to produce the Honey. Then there is the Male Bee or Drone, aptly named because they are large and surprisingly, they drone when they are flying (not to be confused with Bumble Bees).

The males do nothing in the hive, other than eat, their only purpose is to mate with other Queens, for all their impressive size, they can't even sting, so now that's out in the open, no doubt there will be comments.

For those who think Drones do ok, then can I just say, because of their size they are easy pray for Birds, and once they mate, they die, because they leave their broken off Endophallus or penetrating part inside the Queen. The ones that don't manage to mate with a queen get thrown out of the hive in the autumn by the females who can't afford to have freeloaders in the hive over the winter.

The Queen, on form, can lay upwards of 2000 to 4000 eggs per week and once you know what to look for, it is the best way to judge if there is a queen in the hive because a good Beekeeper can see the eggs in the bottom of the cell. Then once the growth cycle is understood, you can judge how old the Lava is in the Brood box, thus you can judge how healthy the queen is or if she is present, because, if you have lava that has been capped, others at 3 days, some at 8 or 9 days old but no new ones then something is happening in the hive (unless the queen is slowing down for winter of course).

Basically after 3 days the egg hatches into a Lava, the Lava is fed by the workers, it then goes through a process of growth and moulting for 8 to 9 days at which time it spins a cocoon and the cell is sealed over, it continues to grow and around 21 days from being laid it emerges as a newly formed worker Bee, there are slight modifications to the timings if the cell is to produce a drone or a queen, but that's it in general terms.

As I have said the workers are all female, when they first hatch, they immediately take on duties such as learning to clean the hive, feeding other young larva, before becoming guard Bees, then moving out to be foragers, this takes about 3 weeks to achieve. The life expectation of a Bee in the Summer is 6 weeks, this is because, they spend up to 3 weeks in the hive, then once out foraging, 3 weeks later, they literally have worked themselves to death. They work an area of 1.5 miles radius from the hive, some a little more, but the actual distances they fly are astronomic. I have heard it said that each teaspoon of Honey takes a million Bee flight miles; that should make you think next time you look at your Jar of Honey.

That's a very, very basic understanding of what goes on in the Hive, lets now look at what are the constituent parts of the Hive.

The modern Hive, in general, has a large box (Brood Box) with an entrance for the Bees. There are slotted frames which are removable. These are usually filled with the wax 'brood comb' or all of the hexagonal shapes everyone is aware of. These are where the queen lays her eggs. Around the 'brood area', the worker bees stack or stash pollen and Nectar they bring in to the hive with the express purpose of feeding the Lava, then, further out in the Hive, the Bees make this wonderful mixture from their stomach which they use as food for storage; we call it Honey, lovely sticky, tasty Honey. Until you have found yourself a local Honey supplier or start keeping your own Bees, you have not, without spending a lot of money, really tasted Honey.

Above the Brood Box a queen excluder is fitted, that's exactly like it sounds, it's a mesh frame which will allow worker Bees through, but because the Queen is bigger, she therefore can't pass through to lay her eggs in the comb above.

There is another box fitted above the Queen excluder, this is called a 'super', it is also full of removable frames and is where the honey is stored by the Bees. This makes it easier to remove the honey once capped by the Bees. As the summer progresses, more and more supers can be added, but it is better to remove Supers once they are full. The Bees, produce this lovely mixture of nectar and water from their stomach, they ripen it, and only when the water content has dropped below a certain percentage (20%) do they class it as honey, they then put a thin layer of wax over to seal it in until required, Bee Keepers call this 'capped' and the honey is then ready to eat. I f you have ever bought Honey Comb, that's what it's like in the frame.

Once the Super is removed and the removable frames are uncapped, the frames are spun in a chamber and the Honey runs down to the bottom, is filtered, ripened and jarred for storage.

And there you have it, if only it was that simple...