From Fox Business: “The cold winter hasn’t just upset retailers trying to sell spring clothes. The freezing temperatures have also led to shrinking honeybee populations in the U.S., according to George Hansen, president of the American Beekeeping Federation. This may seem like small potatoes – if not for the fact that honeybees pollinate $15 billion of U.S. crops, according to the USDA“We’re probably looking at 40% losses of colonies over this winter,” says George Hansen, the president of the American Beekeeping Federation.”
For a number of years I was a bee keeper. I am not even particularly fond of honey and I gave away all my hives produced, but I loved bees. They are one of nature’s most fascinating creatures. It was a totally satisfying experience. Few people realize that without bees we would have little to eat, besides meat. Unfortunately, people equate bees to any kind of “flying insect that stings” and honey bees (except the African variety) are gentle and kind – although they do demand respect.
I always wore a hat and net when I worked the hives, but rarely used gloves. Bees have about a six week period in spring when they are “busy as bees” and during that time you can open a hive, take out and examine the frames and bees will climb over your hands and never bother you. That is because they are such workers they are too busy to mess with you. BUT, if a cloudy or rainy day keeps them confined to the hive during their work period they are just like people. They get frustrated and touchy and you can just kick the hive and they will be out and all over you.
Bees have a photographic memory. When they leave the hive they “take a picture” of its location with their little brains and that is how they find their way back. You can move a hive while they are out, say ten feet to the side, and they will be completely lost. When a bee finds a particularly good patch of vegetation with lots of nectar and pollen when he flies back to the hive he does a little “dance” on the hive platform which tells the other bees the direction and distance to the good stuff. It is a marvelous performance to watch.
New England bee keepers make a living by hauling truck loads of hives to Florida to pollinate the Orange groves. There is also a shorter, perhaps four week period in the fall when the bees can work collecting nectar and pollen and then they bed down for the winter. That is when the bee keeper takes about half the frames from the hives and processes the honey. If he takes more than that, the bees may die in the cold season and that is likely what happened this year.
Honey bees have a highly organized and structured system of living and caring for the young bees and storing pollen and nectar that would make Washington cry. Every bee has a job and every bee works at it. There is one Queen to a hive and she lays all the eggs (hundreds) that the new baby bees hatch from. The only males in a hive are the Drones and there are just a few of those. Their only purpose – one Drone will mate with the Queen, and the mating causes his death. (Wow! Talk about wild love!) When winter comes the bees kick the remaining Drones out in the cold where they die. Next season the worker bees will raise two or three prospective Queens and the strongest one will kill the others and become the Queen Bee. She mates with a Drone (in the air) and then lays the eggs, The workers tend the eggs while the others fly out to collect the pollen and nectar. The hive builds up to its maximum population by about July and then attrition takes place.
I loved working with and for the bees. I am sorry that I am now too old for all that hard work.