I didn’t think I was overly concerned about our dozen fruit trees bearing fruit. But suddenly all the markers pointed to the topic of bees. At an Asheville writers’ group, Michael Havelin commented that he had just taken the Basic Beekeeper’s exam given by the NC State Beekeeper’s Association. He told me about Colony Collapse Disorder. Who knew there was such a thing? The next evening I opened a James Rollins thriller The Doomsday Key and read “During the years 2006 to 2008, one-third of all honeybees in the United States (and much of Europe and Canada) vanished.” Somebody knew.
Then I was curious and called my neighbor the next day. Bob Slough graciously agreed to put up with my questions. He was down to two hives last fall, but only one made it through the winter. Before the cold weather hit, he gave them extra food in a Boardman Feeder (see photo). Basically, heavy sugar water to increase the supply of honey to sustain them through bad weather. Bob’s son-in-law lost six out of twenty-five hives. I still don’t know why the bees left, but the origin of a several clichés was revealed.
Busy as a Bee In the summer, the life span of a honeybee is 25 days. He works very hard. The immature bees clean the hive and construct the comb cells to receive the nectar. There are ten removable frames of honeycombs in each drawer. As the bees get older, they are promoted out the door at the bottom of the hive. The queen mother has to continually lay eggs to replace the dropouts. She lives a year, maybe two. The bees fortunate enough to have the winter shift live longer. They have only one job. Stay alive. Huddled together to keep warm wings, they will die if exposed to temperatures lower than fifty degrees. So no peaking into their home which is actually a stack of drawers. When sixty degrees comes, and they smell something blooming, they come out for pollen and nectar. The cycle begins again.
Beeline If a hive is moved more than five feet from its habitual spot, without its residents, the bees can’t find it again. They have a route from flower to hive. Suck and deposit. Simple job description. Straight line. If there are multiple hives, the bees are not confused and not tempted to visit another guy’s home. One job, over and over for 25 days. Fly hard, get it done. Persevere. But I never would have guessed that a hive has 15,000 workers. Only one queen.
Bee in Bonnet If there is an abundance of eggs and lots of bee babies, and another queen, they have a meeting that may get as large as a football. Otherwise known as a swarm. A beekeeper tries to herd them all together into a new hive. This is where the smoke is handy. And a special outfit. Even though these workers live only 25 days, they are on a sugar high and very alert. If you accidently kill one that maybe gets through the protective netting around your face or in your goatskin glove, somehow there is a red alert, and you are a target. And act crazy. Bob thinks it has something to do with the highly developed sense of smell.
(For a thriller writer, there is an opportunity for a killer swarm of bees to attack Washington, D.C., at a cherry blossom festival. Could happen. Think Alfred Hitchcock.)
Bees Knees Means something remarkable. Which all of this is. Thank you, Bob.