Friday, May 6, 2016
A Bee Story
As the first rays of sunlight think about peeking over the horizon in the apiary the bees stir deep in the warm darkness of the hive. Sunlight falls across the entrance to the hive providing just a sliver of light. Inside foraging bees emerge onto the landing board ready to make the first flight of the day. One bee flies off in the direction of the sun making one of fifteen or so flights she'll complete before dark.
During these flights she will only travel as far as necessary to gather what the colony needs. Though she could possibly travel as far as five to ten miles, in the suburban neighborhood where she lives she will likely not even have to travel one. The residents surrounding her beekeeper's home are avid gardeners and there are many vegetable gardens and flower beds from which to choose. White clover dots a nearby field and dandelions are not seen as the enemy in a neighboring lawn.
Whatever flower she forages from first is all she will harvest from on this run, returning to the hive with only one kind of pollen. An ancient thicket of blackberries along a fence row makes a good starting place. She lands on the blossom and uses her brushy legs to scrape the pollen from her body down into her pollen bags which are a bit like built in saddle bags. She is able to carry about half her body weight in pollen. She'll fill them and then return to the hive to unpack them into a honeycomb cell deep in the darkness of the hive. She'll leave again on another run.
This is the most solitary part of a bee's life. Having worked within the hive alongside her sisters she has been part of the clean up crew, been a nurse to baby bees, done construction, circulated air through the hive, and been on guard duty. Now in the next part of her life she will go out alone every day to find and bring back what her sisters in the colony need to survive and prosper.
She will perform this final job until her death. She must avoid many dangers and traps on her travels. She must evade hungry birds and sticky spider webs. She will have no way of knowing if she is foraging from flowers that have been sprayed with dangerous chemicals deadly to her and her species. She is little threat to humans as she single mindedly performs her duties. She is reluctant to sting sensing the deadliness of the action. But if crushed under a bare foot while she delicately works a white clover blossom she will have no choice. If she avoids an untimely death then one day while her pollen bags are full of nutrient rich protein for the hive she will grow tired, her wings giving out after visiting up to 2,000 flowers a day over the course of several flights, returning to the hive after visiting 50-100 flowers.
One warm sunny afternoon she will stop to rest a moment before continuing her mission to deliver her stores to the hive. Not having the energy to continue her tiny wings worn out in the service of the hive she will die. Or she may return to the hive and die inside in which case her sisters whom she has worked so hard for will carry her out of the hive during routine housekeeping.
In her life she will have produced 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey. It takes the life's work of about 12 honeybees to produce that small amount.
Meanwhile a local gardener adds a hive to his garden and at farmers markets customers buy local honey from beekeepers thereby helping them maintain and expand their apiaries and thus helping the bees. In another part of town a woman plants a pollinator garden to attract honeybees and help them in their search for pollen and nectar. At a nearby field a farmer has traded his chemical laden farm techniques for organic methods and in the process increases the survival rates of the bees in his area. In a local school children are taught the importance of the honeybees in protecting our food supply.
The bees need our help and you are the hero of this story. Buying local honey, planting a garden, and foregoing heavy chemical applications to lawns and gardens are just a few ways that you can help to save the bees.
Meanwhile that first sliver of light is creeping into the darkness of the hive again and the bees have work to do.