Honey bees are in the business of producing excessive amounts of magical food that never goes bad and kills bacteria and fungal infection, while contributing to the pollination of flowering plants; an essential process for a huge amount of vegetative life on our planet.
Beekeeping generally refers to the keeping and maintenance of honey bee colonies. Not just any bee will do; out of the approximately 20,000 different species of bees, only 7 are recognized as honey bees. One thing that all bees have in common is that they feed on the pollen and nectar of flowering plants; apart from that they are incredibly diverse in nature and behavior. Lots of species of bees are solitary wanderers that only hang out with other bees for mating purposes, while others live in social groups that range in size from under a dozen to giant colonies consisting of tens of thousands. That being said, some species of bees are entirely fertile, while other species designate a single female with the gift of reproduction; a queen. Of all these different kind of bee species, the seven that are considered to be honey bees all live in giant colonies which serve a queen, build a hive around her and produce excessive amounts of food (honey, royal jelly and bee pollen), wax to store it all in, and propolis, which is like a kind of bee glue. When we say excessive, we mean producing and storing 50 to 100 times more food than the colony could ever consume, and this alone is why honey bees are the money bees; they make more than enough to share with humans. Other bees either don’t produce honey or wax at all, or just not enough of it to go around.
The seven species of honey bees are designated as a member of the Apis genus, which is a member of the Apidae family of bees. This is why beekeeping is also known as apiculture, a beekeeper known as apiarist, and a location where bees are kept domestically is referred to as an apiary. Honey bees live in colony hives with three caste levels; the queen (fertile female), drones (males) and workers (infertile females). While many (but not all) bee species have defensive stingers, honey bees are the only species of bee which have tiny barbs on their stingers, and only the worker bee caste of Apis genus has this distinguishable feature. When thrust into the body of an intruder, this barb causes the stinger apparatus to pull free from the bee’s body, killing the worker bee it used to be attached to, but also hopefully incapacitating the intruder. For a honey bee worker, an intruder is any threat to the queen or the hive, and any worker bee will give their life in defense of their queen.
While humans have been using honey bees for their stockpiles of food for millennia (often killing them in the process), as a species we only started to figure out their species in the late 1700’s. While people have been domesticating various bees in different ways since the dawn of civilization, it was only through understanding and distinguishing the honey bee that we developed the movable comb hive, which revolutionized beekeeping. It has always been considered sacred and important, but movable comb hive technology made beekeeping not only sustainable, but capable of yielding greater volumes of usable bee products than ever before.
Honey bees have been studied extensively, and we have learned a tremendous amount about them. While many insects such as bees have society, the colony level at which a honey bee society operates is advanced and efficient beyond most which exist in nature as a whole. Honey bees are in the business of producing excessive amounts of magical food that never goes bad and kills bacteria and fungal infection, while contributing to the pollination of flowering plants; an essential process for a huge amount of vegetative life on our planet. No other animal in nature gives so much while taking practically nothing in return. Honey bees require very little intervention from us to get their work done at maximum efficiency. They need a dry place to live that is protected from the elements, a decent source of water, and some food.
The Three Honey Bee Castes
A hive exists entirely around its queen and relies completely upon her ability to produce worker bees; a devoted sisterhood of nurses, builders,pollinators, food producers and warriors. Without being fertilized, a queen is only capable of producing male drones which are largely incapable of defending the hive or producing food. Male drones only have half the chromosomes of a normal bee, no stinger and are basically only capable of fertilizing a queen, or helping kill one that isn’t producing workers for the hive. Queen bees are designated and created by worker bees, which select a larva and feed it royal jelly exclusively throughout its development, in a much larger cell which allows it to grow to a size with complete and functional set of ovaries, along with a spermatheca, which stores sperm after successful mating. While a queen lacks the ability to produce wax or food, her sole purpose is to fly out on nuptial flights in order to become fertilized by drones from other hives, which supply sperm with their half of the chromosomes required to create functional worker bees. Once the queen has filled up on sperm after a series of these flights, she retires to the hive to lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. A full spermatheca will provide genetic material to fertilize hundreds of thousands of eggs, and the honey bee queen will give birth to and maintain a colony of as many as 60,000 workers while keeping a dozen or so unfertilized, half-wit male drones around which can fly out to fertilize queens from other hives. While drones can fertilize a sister queen if need be, with less genetic diversity she will produce less eggs and likely only function as a temporary queen before being replaced with one that will be expected to go out and find strong genetic diversity in the form of sperm from other hives.
After mating and reproduction, worker bees do literally everything else in a honey bee society from cleaning and construction, to caring for the queen and new offspring in addition to collecting and producing food while defending the hive with their very lives. While a productive queen calls the shots in a colony; the colony of workers itself is entirely capable of deposing queens and creating new ones, so honey bee existence relies on them in more ways than one. Without worker bees, there are no bees, let alone wax, honey, royal jelly or propolis. Under a queen (which may also be their sister), worker bees are all sisters that live and die for their hive. All of the tasks in a functional colony are divided up among the worker bees, usually based on age. Every worker performs a role so that their hive will not only survive, but thrive and seemingly prepare for periods of time where pollen, nectar or water won’t exist, or at least can’t be taken for granted.
Honey bee behavior is important to understand if you want your bees to be happy, healthy, and productive. Movable comb hives allow us to collect the products of honey bees without damaging or threatening their colony, since they produce an over-abundance of food and supplies. By non-invasive domestication, we provide secure and safe residence for honey bees, often in proximity to a source of flowering plants which they thrive upon. We need only give them so little and they will give so much back, from pollinating our plants to providing us with some of the most useful things in nature; honey and wax. Raw, unpasteurized honey has various medicinal and nutritional properties, and when stored properly will last for centuries, if not forever. Wax also has a variety of uses including coatings and finishes for wood, lubrication and construction in things such as candles. Royal jelly holds an array of secrets and useful properties, while propolis is handy as a natural glue. Everyone should keep a colony of bees with enough flowering plants and water for them to thrive upon.
Want to get a start on beekeeping with a simple hive kit? Check out this one in our store!