Bee's and the Hive
Ever wondered what goes on inside that cauldron of frenzied bee activity that is the Hive, and what other magical substances the Bees produce apart from wonderful Raw Irish Honey ... ? Well, lets delve in a bit deeper.
Read on for a brief overview of the fascinating workings of the hive, and what the roles and functions the different bees actually carry out.
Or if you want to learn more and become a beekeeper why not join me for an 2 day Introductory course, Click here to learn more
Though first off below are some links to the main substances produced and collected by our industrious little Bees.
Inside the Hive.
A strong Hive at the peak of the season can contain usually ( but not always ) one Queen, up to 60,000 Workers and a 1000 or so male Drones.
The Bees have a highly structured society, where every Bee is working for the good of the colony, as opposed for his or her personal well being. So much so that the worker Bees will literally work them selves to death collecting the various substances required for the Super Organism, that is the colony, to survive.
Normally only one in a Hive (but temporarily there can at times be two) she ultimately is the glue that holds the colony together and maintains the order in the hive. She does this through the constant emitting of a chemical scent, a Pheromone, that the Workers eagerly pick up and pass on. In receiving this pheromone the workers know that all is well in the hive and the reigning queen is present.
If the Queen is removed or leaves with a swarm, within a half an hour all the resident Bees realize this, as this Pheromone is no longer available, and will start making plans to replace her. To understand the hierarchical structure in a colony of bees, it is important to realize that she is not ultimately the decision maker, that is the workers who will decide what will happen inside the hive as a collective.
Her function is to produce eggs destined to become the workers, male drones and when the colony is ready to swarm, new Queens, this latter fate to be determined again by the workers.
To start the Queen will emerge from a specially constructed Queen Cell, after being fed a special diet for all her development stage of Royal Jelly. This diet alone will change her from what she was originally, a standard fertilized egg, like all the other worker fertilized eggs, into a future monarch. She will emerge after approximately 16 days after the egg was laid to start out on the precarious first phase of her life
She will, as all successful Queens must, first go out on a mating flight and mate. If successful and not gobbled up by a predator such as a Swallow, will mate with awaiting male drones, up to approximately 10-15 of, and return to her hive with the stored sperm, and remain there for that season normally. Ultimately though a functioning strong colony of Bees will "Swarm". This is how Bees reproduce and replicate colony's. Generally the bees will decide it is time to do so for a number of reasons, lack of space in the current colony or diminishing fecundity of the the existing queen, which they sense through weakening of her chemical scent/pheromone that keeps the order in the hive.
Sometimes the newly mated queen will coexist in unison with the old queen, for a short period of time. Ultimately though the older Monarch will disappear, leaving the new Queen to reign. She may alternatively, as decided by the workers, leave with half the existing population of worker bees to setup a colony elsewhere.
The Queen will lay a fertilized egg that will hatch after 3 days to become a larvae bee.
This will be tended to by designated Nurse Bees who will feed it a rich diet for the first three days with a specially secreted food called Royal Jelly. After this first three days the diet will change to a high protein energy food called "Bee Bread ", basically slightly fermented Pollen and Honey that has been mixed and stored for a period of time in the hive cells. A complete food.
This larvae will pupate and emerge after 21 days to immediately start working, at first cleaning and then feeding other larvae, building wax cells, guard duty, and after approximately 3 weeks will start leaving the hive to commence foraging. The worker will probably for her short remaining average 3 week life, focus on foraging nectar and/or pollen from the one plant species.
Bees will always choose the most sugar concentrated, closest and most abundant nectar source to maximize return. Once the designated scouting Bees find such a source they will bring a sample back to the Hive and offer to other forager Bees and depending on its abundance , sugar content, and proximity will communicate this to the other bees through a specialist dance, the Waggle Dance.
In total darkness the other Bees can interact with the Bee performing this dance to locate within a very short distance the exact position of this new found bounty. They will work this source of nectar and/or pollen until it is close to depletion and then move on to the next rich source. After approximately a short 6 week life they generally will die "out in the field" as such. Its a tough life being a Bee !
Much maligned by some for being a lazy non contributing member of the colony in relation to foraging. Really a reputation to facile for a member of such a intricate and structured community.
His main commonly documented purpose, is to fly off and mate with a virgin queens from another Hive. There have been studies carried out though that suggest his role in the Hive is more complicated and important than widely believed.
That having a healthy population of Drones in a Hive, brings a harmony that is not as evident when they are absent. As always in the Natural World, and very much so in relation to the complex workings of the Bee Hive and of roles of its residents. We still have so much left to learn. A drone will live for a few weeks in the Summer and if successful, die in the act of mating with a Virgin Queen. Talk about a Rock and Roll lifestyle !
The Beekeeping Year
To work through the Calendar year, the Bees will be treated in early to mid January to reduce the parasitic Varroa Mite load, a serious pest and vector of many diseases. The Queen now will sense the slight increase in daylight hours and start to lay to boost the spring workforce.
The Beekeeper will monitor closely to make sure they have enough stores right up to the onset of the flowering of our various native (and non) important forage plants for our Bees. Early spring can be a precarious time for them after the long winter and just before the onset of flowering. The odd colony may need an extra frame of Honey to see them through.
March and April are all about rearing new young Bees to get the numbers of workers up to coincide with the most profuse period of flowering, usually the month of July, when they will switch from Brood rearing mostly to focus mainly on nectar gathering for Winter stores.
May is the prime month for swarming, when the colony will basically reproduce.
They will raise new Queens to enable swarming. So as they can effectively divide the existing colony a number of times. With the old Queen leaving first with half the workers to locate and setup elsewhere, and likewise subsequent born new Queens leaving also with half the remaining bees to setup new colonies. Until the last new Queen to emerge will remain, with the much depleted original workforce to start afresh, and rebuild the existing colony. Only to most likely repeat the same process late spring the following year.
Swarming can continue and often does into June. When the Beekeeper by various methods, can manage this swarming instinct to produce new colonies if required. July is the time when the much wished for "Nectar flow" usually happens. This can come from a number off plant sources depending on where the colony is sited.
The main Summer sources in Ireland are White Clover, Blackberry, occasionally the Lime tree in urban locations, and various other contributors on a lesser scale. It is a time to carefully monitor the Hive making sure they are given enough, but not to much, room to store this valuable honey crop.
August is a month the Bees will continue to bring in Nectar usually at a reduced rate. Later in the Month the excess Honey crop is removed, carefully leaving enough for the Bees to overwinter.
It is a time, after the removal of this honey crop that the Bees need their second treatment for the troublesome Varroa Mite. It is also a month, in the latter part, for those Beekeepers looking for a crop of Heather Honey, to bring their Hives up to the Heather moors.
September is a month for the bees to continue bringing in Nectar and Pollen to store and rear, what will be the bees that will overwinter. The number of worker bees reduces dramatically as they have expended themselves in a last push to bring in late sourced Nectar and Pollen. It is also the time in the later part, when the first of a very important late nectar and Pollen source will bloom, our native Ivy Plant.
October, November and December usually brings the onset of colder weather and much reduced activity, and shorter days. As we enter the winter. The Poor Auld Drones are turfed out in the cold to meet their maker.
The Bees will go into a cluster as the days shorten and when temperatures drop below 10-13 degrees. They will generate heat by flexing their powerful wing muscles and maintain a cluster core temperature of approximately 34 degrees. They will take turns working from outside to inside of the cluster to keep warm, slowly over the weeks moving from frame to fame in the hive consuming stores.
That is, believe it or not, a brief overview of the inner workings of the Beehive and the overall Beekeeping year. There are many other processes, outcomes and situations that are carried out and can occur. Way too many to cover here. Beekeeping is a fascinating and very complex craft that is a great way to reconnect with our beautiful natural world.
Learning the craft will bring you rewards far and beyond that Ohh so Sweet and Fragrant first jar of Honey you and your cherished Bees will produce. A Honey which is a jarred taste of Summer you will cherish and enjoy long into the dark and colder winter months.
If your interest is suitably piqued, and I sincerely hope it is.
Why not click Here and join me for a more in depth look on my
2 day course where you will learn far more, in the relaxed and stunning Airfield Estate. On this course we will go through in much more detail how you can progress on to become a fully fledged Beekeeper, and enjoy a cuppa whilst learning !.