Lessons from the hive: Babies, babies everywhere

I opened my new hive this afternoon with fear and trembling.  The one where the bee massacre happened. It was a mess inside.  Soft fluffy piles of newsprint were strewn across the hive floor.  The back of the hive was piled high with shredded paper and roly poly white worms. Outside the hive door was a little pile of detritus and dead bees which the janitor bees had carried outside. They had a big job before them.  I remembered the piles of rubbish in the streets of India where the trash pickers would sort and recycle, reducing the community’s refuse. I guess every society has a specialization of labor——human and critter.

Fortunately, the bees had made fast work of the newsprint which I had used to separate the two original feral hives. The goal was to keep them from attacking one another until they grew accustomed to each other’s scent.  They had chewed through to each other and were now one united community. I mused to myself, if only human communities could so quickly figure out how to live and work together, putting our differences aside…innately knowing that we need one another more than we need endless conflict”. It seemed clear to me, practically speaking, that ongoing conflict and war is just plain tiresome, eating up precious community resources.

And so, this day, I rejoiced that my hive seemed no worse for the wear,  lacking in PTSD. The hive was flowing with honey and new baby brood.  Of the 3 queen cells that I had counted in the hive last week, all had been chewed open and the hive now appeared to be calm and “queen right” ———evidently there had been one conquering queen.  What a relief.

I remembered last Saturday, out at the Albuquerque Open Space where our Master Beekeeper class learned about queen bee rearing from Melanie Kirby, of Truchas, NM.  As if to highlight her morning session, we went out to the hives for a hands on lesson in queens, only to find that the hive we opened had not one queen cell, but at least 4 or 5.  Jackpot. As Melanie harvested them, we watched them all begin to hatch in our hands, before our very eyes.  I had never seen such a “hot” hive.  What did these crazy bees have in mind with all these queen cells?  Melanie was delighted with these local beauties and handed them out like candy to us. I guess that advanced beekeeper’s dream of having their own locally grown queens.  The idea is that they represent  resilient stock, adapted to their environment and filled with genetic DNA from locally reared male drones.

And then we saw it….up at the top of an olive tree nearby.  A football sized swarm of bees dangling gracefully.  Students quickly repaired to gather suits and boxes to catch this mother swarm from the hive with all the queen cells. Now we knew what the bees were up to in the hive. Multiple new queens for more nurseries. Babies, babies everywhere.

We all love babies.  And bee babies are no different. They are cute. Tiny, with blond, fuzzy abdomens. But, wait, those little darlings are not just adorable. They hatch out ready to work. Their short lifespan begins as a nurse bee to other newbies, graduating to middle age tasks (age 12-21 days) of building honeycomb, keeping the hive cooled or warmed, cleaning the cells, and guarding.

Finally, as a mature bee, they spend the remainder of their days foraging as a field bee.  One would think that this is the pinnacle of bee life,  blissfully immersed in pollen, drunk with nectar.  But don’t be fooled. Bees are workaholics, and perhaps like humans, don’t spend much time lolling amongst the flowers, savoring the nectar they sip and lovely surroundings.  Instead, they race from one pollen glutted stamen to another, eager to bring home more, More, MORE, distracted by so many flowers, so little time….

And so, I offer you a word of wisdom from Mary Oliver…

The Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.

COMING NEXT WEEK…What’s up with all those Drones anyway?

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