The Bellair menagerie is expanding again, this time to include bees. Honey bees! Long time partners in a wobbly dance of existential desire, humans and honey bees have co-existed for at least 10,000 years, as evidenced by several Mesolithic-era paintings found in Spain. We brought ours home Thursday, and so far they seem to like it here!
According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, “if you pay attention, bees provide more drama than a TV miniseries,” so last Saturday morning I sat down for some quality time with our new hive. Of the many ways to start a hive, we’re set up with perhaps the most ideal situation- a nucleus, or “nuc,” hive of locally adapted bees from the Lynchburg area. Translation: we have a small, fully functional colony of somewhere between 15,000 to 100,000 bees (probably closer to the smaller amount), complete with comb, brood, pollen, honey, and hopefully a laying queen, all having spent the entirety of their lives in central Virginia, breathing VA air, collecting VA pollen and nectar. This means that they should have a pretty easy time adapting to life at Bellair, so my main focus on Saturday was simply to get familiar with their habits by observing them from outside the hive.
Sitting in the grass a few feet from the hive entrance, one of the first things I noticed was a single bee careening out of the air. She landed in the grass, abdomen pumping. A worker, perhaps on her last flight?
The life of the average worker is pretty hard and short- during peak production in summer, a worker may live 6 to 8 weeks at most, spending the bulk of that time foraging up to a few square miles from the hive, and most likely dying with a hammer in her hand, so to speak. I hosted this bee on my finger for a bit, but although she made many attempts to take off, she was grounded every time, and I finally set her next to the hive where she might at least have a chance to deliver her final load of nectar before buzzing off to the great hive in the sky.
The next bee to notice me was much more energetic- a guard bee? She spent a good minute buzzing around me, testing my ability to remain calm in thought and motion. Guard bees are some of the most senior bees in the colony, and their duties include watching out for honey robbers of all sorts- bears, skunks, members of other bee hives, and incautious beekeepers, too. The rest seemed to be going about the daily business of bringing in pollen and nectar, and there was a constant flow in and out of the hive entrance. The air within about 2 feet of the front of the box was a suspension of bees. Some bee legs were fat with golden pollen, some showed no visible forage, but I assume these were carrying nectar in their honey stomachs, beginning the digestive alchemy that will feed the next generation of brood, sustain the colony through the coming winter, and, if we’re lucky and treat them well, sweeten our lives just a little bit.
Tune in soon for another episode, featuring our first hive inspection! And as always, come on down for a visit, we’d love to see you.