The Queen Bee’s Broken Appendage

I’ve wanted to learn about beekeeping since I was a kid watching Harriet’s Magic Hats. I envy Winnie the Pooh’s endless supply of the golden goo. Even this blog’s first post was about Adelaide Apiary on Mays Road.

So the prospect of keeping my own bees, thus providing me with a year-round supply of bee nectar, makes me salivate. Steve and Gail Mitchell of Bee Haven Farm delivered Beekeeping 101 for this month’s Renaissance Women workshop. We got the low down on the biology and logistics of setting up and maintaining a colony of honey bees.

The Biology

Gail’s biology lesson was blush-worthy. The Queen bee mates with about 10 drone (dude) bees at once, about a week after she’s born. When business time is finished, the drone’s penis breaks off and stays inside the Queen. I’m grateful it was Gail, not Steve, who shared that news with us.

Then there was the lesson on how pollination works. I’ll use an apple tree in my abbreviated example:

Step 1: Apple blossom pollen latches on to the bee’s fuzzy body while she drinks the blossom nectar (which she brings back to the hive to make honey to feed baby bees…and us).

Step 2: That pollen (or sperm, as Gail called it), is deposited on the next apple blossom the bee goes to for more nectar.

Step 3: The pollen (sperm) is absorbed by the blossom’s stigma (girl bits).

Step 4: The pollen (sperm) travels down the stigma to the blossom’s ovary.

Step 5: The ovary is fertilized and grows into an apple. Which we eat.

To put it another way, fruit is flower ovary. Yum.

The Logistics

Steve showed us how to make a bee hive boxes, comb racks, and gave us some insight into how much work it is:

Job 1: Moving In

Your first job is to help the bees get established in their hive. You, the beekeeper, make sure the bees build a good honeycomb, even if there are no flowers to provide nectar (like in February…or now). Bees convert nectar into wax to build their comb, into which they store the honey that we pillage for topping on hot toast with melted butter. So if there are no flowers in bloom, you feed them a sugar syrup that would send a hummingbird into diabetic shock.

Job 2: Pest Control

Once the comb is established, then you kick back and let nature takes its course…not. You need to keep an eye on the combs to make sure the Queen is laying eggs; if not, your bees may be diseased, thus affecting every other colony within flight distance. This is what happened in 2010 when so many bees died on the Vancouver Island. The last thing you want to be is the girl who let her bees go bad so spoiled the rest. Awkward.

Job 3: Harvest Honey

Then, once blackberry season is over (the last bloom of the year in the valley), you collect your spoils. You find someone who has a honeycomb centrifuge to separate the honey from the comb. You stick your mouth under the vat spout, and open wide.

Job 4: Winterize

Still not done. When you finish licking honey off your face, you have to help the little buggers stay warm and pest-free through the winter. Yes, Steve says, you can take holidays when the bees are settled in their winter home.

Even with all that work, and with that discomforting image of the queen bee, I still want to keep my own bees. I’ll wait until the kids are older, and I have time to focus on doing it right. Until then, I’ll pay the local experts, like Steve and Gail at Bee Haven, to keep my honey jar full.

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8 comments

  1. this needs to be the preface to biology 101 and would be remembered by every teen who read it! one more question….once you’ve separated the honey from the comb…… can you then take the lovely bees wax from the hive and make candles, batik etc etc?or do you need to leave the comb in the hive for another year? R

    1. Great question Ruthie! And one I didn’t ask. If anyone knows what we do with the leftover honeycomb wax, speak up!

      Maeve

  2. Your post so perfectly sums up this workshop! I watched the “Harriet’s Magic Hats” clip which did little to trigger my memories of the show. The bird in the hammock was the only bit that felt familiar. Maybe I was too busy watching “Switchback” and “Let’s Go” (anyone? could be a Manitoba reference).

    Thanks for your wonderful writing. If the voice-over work doesn’t pan out, you’ve got an amazing second talent to fall back on.:)

  3. What a great post! Very evocative…but now I feel a little dirty (thanks to Bee Biology 101) when I say I’d love to have some of your honey…

    1. Keep your hands off my honey, honey!

      Maybe I should be more charitable considering your new place is a perfect spot for a Maple Bay Bee Colony. I’m happy to help you get set up as long as I have unrestricted access to the vat.

      Maeve

  4. I loved watching your face as Gail explained the (birds and the) bees to you!!! Sperm, ovaries … I thought that after having your own babies you were the expert in the room. So funny.

    xox

    1. Ho ho hell no! I’m no expert in the biology of reproduction (especially plants), I just have three kids. Big difference.

      Poor Gail! I couldn’t let it go. “So, let me get this straight….”. She was patient and kind, just like love (according to a bunch of Corinthians).

      Thanks again for organizing.

      Maeve

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