Lessons from the hive: is there a queen in the house?

Queens have many statuses and meanings in our society.  Royal blood to be preserved. Anachronistic relics from the past. crowns of state. Powerful.  Powerless. Dignified beauties. High maintenance girls. Gender at play.

In the hive, queens are the mules.  They carry all the genetic material for the next generation.  Her sole function is as the reproducer.  A well mated and well fed queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs in comb cups per day—more than her own bodyweight in eggs.  If she begins to lose her reproductive power, her pheromone scent will wane, often leading to a de-throning, a showdown with a new queen that the girls have raised to kill the old.  Yes, there are no wise, sagey elders in the colony, ageism is rampant.  The workers generally die of overwork after 30 days, and are replaceable. A good queen can last up to 5 years, but that is rare these days, 1-2 is more likely, given the toxic world around them.  And yes, there is also sexism in the colony.   The whole colony of worker bees are girls, except when mating time comes around every year. Then there will be some boys, otherwise known as drones, who are quickly disposed of if the colony is bursting with new babies and they are taking up space and resources. Out on their backsides, into the unkind world beyond to fend for themselves.

And the world for busy bees is a hard cold, reality these days.  Both for the city bee and the rural bee. There are the unprecedented wildly swinging temperatures which might cause a hot day in December and a freezing day in May when they are supposed to be dancing in the flowers collecting nectar.  Their favorite flowers, including weeds, and fruited trees are often doused in insecticides and pesticides by well meaning gardeners.  Over time, this will weaken and kill a whole colony.  Genetically modified roses and plants have seeds that are coated in those very same pesticides, infecting the flowers.  A society of the survival of the fittest, indeed.

When I went to open my hive yesterday, I was concerned that it be “queen right”, meaning—-without a queen, the colony will surely perish, soon.  This particular swarm of bees was collected off a tree by my bee mentor, Carolyn.  She brought it to me with reassuring words that it was a strong colony and likely held a virgin queen.  O no!  A virgin?  That would mean she needs to go out on her dangerous mating flight alone and find some local boys to give her sperm for life.  It could be that there were no drones in the neighborhood.  It could be that the Spring winds would swept her away to another county, another zip code, and she would not make her way back.  O no!

For a week I held my breath as the girls oriented to their new home.  They seemed to settle in after their initial angry and confused sprawl into this large covered box.  I waited and watched.  Pollen being brought in is a good sign that babies are due.  Pollen being the high protein food of choice for baby bees.  Lo and behold, I caught sight of a few leg sac full’s of pollen scurrying into the doorway over the weekend.  Eagerly I put on my bee hood and took my smoker and went to check the nursery.  Nothing that I could see in the way of eggs, larvae, baby bees, a queen. Only a swarm of bees busily hanging new comb.

If there is no queen sighting soon, I must find one for them.  Time is of essence since it takes 21 days for a honey bee to grow from egg to adult and begin it’s work.  All my current bees could be gone by then.  A haunting thought.

I’m wondering where I’m going with this….what exactly is the lesson from the hive today? How about this? Make sure there’s good, strong women to bring about the next generations.  Take good care of them.  Give them rights, education, a voice.  Let them do the work they are called to.  Provide a healthy, safe world with clean water, air and soil for them to grow up the little ones of the future——else there be a ghost town, a shell instead of thriving communities.

And remember, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

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