The Bee Goddess is calling me. She’s been calling me for a few years and now I’ve finally decided to listen. I’m off a a new journey with Her as my companion. This journey keeps me close to home as I enter the hive and discover the mysterious life of bees.
Week One of My Bee Journey
New Mexico is a very special place, with a large community of people working to live in balance with the land. Hubble House and Albuquerque Open Space together provide a series of free backyard farming workshops every year.
Last weekend I attended their workshop on beekeeping. In Albuquerque we are legally allowed to keep chickens and bees in our urban gardens. The workshop was facilitated by two veteran beekeepers, Miguel and Tomas.
In addition to harvesting the honey, Miguel is also a natural healer who uses the various bees products, including the bee venom, in his healing practice. He explained a bit about honey’s anti-bacterial properties and how apitherapy reestablishes the normal cycles of the body.
Langstroth Hives Miquel keeps his bees in Langstroth bee hives. The Langstroth bee hive, patented in October 1852, has become the standard beehive all over the world. This type of hive has movable frames set in a rectangular box, designed so that the bees will build their honeycombs straight on each frame. These movable frames allow the beekeeper to manage the bees in a way which was formerly impossible.
Top Bar Hives Next Tomas shared some of his knowledge of bees and beekeeping with Top Bar hives. It’s much less expensive to get started with the Top Bar hives but they do take more management than the Langstroth hives. Most commercial beekeepers use the Langstroth hives as you get more honey, since the bees reuse the honeycombs. With the Top Bar hives you also harvest the wax. This reduces your honey harvest as the bees have to spend time making new combs, but you do get the beeswax to use for candles or encaustic painting.
I learned some really interesting bee facts.
Humans have been keeping bees and collecting their honey for over 6000 years.
There is only one queen per hive and she can live for 3-5 years. Shortly after emergence, the queen takes her nuptial flight, up, up, up to meet a cloud of male (drone) bees. She mates with many drones this one time and remains fertile for life. She lays 2000 – 2500 eggs per day.
The queen starts laying eggs in the center of the comb and lays outward in a spiral pattern. If she lays in a spotty pattern then she is weak. When this happens or if she dies, the other bees will “make” a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of “royal jelly”. Royal jelly is very difficult to harvest. It’s full of all the B vitamins and commands high prices.
All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. A healthy hive is 99% female. . The worker bees start their lives as nursemaids then moving on to other hive tasks. After 21 days they become foragers collecting pollen and nectar. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.
The male bees only exist to fertilize the queen. Mating is followed by the death of the drone. Drones still alive in the autumn are expelled from the hive, since they are of no use in the winter.
Honeybees are not aggressive. They only sting if they feel their hive is in danger or if they are provoked. So beekeepers should approach their hives slowly and quietly. Bees also get agitated by strong smells. Best to shower first and avoid eating garlic or wearing scents when working with bees. Bess feel threatened by dark or bright colors which they perceive as dark. It’s best to wear white when working your hives.
Checking Out the Hives
The group took a break and we had a chance to check out the two different kinds of hives. I decided that the Top Bar hives would work best for me. It’s more of a DYI experience since you can easily build your own hive. One of the things that attracts me to the Top Bar hive is the way it is built using a box angled at 120 degrees from top to bottom. It looks like the bottom half of a hexagon, the same shape in which the bees build their honeycomb. Apparently the hexagon is the most efficient, strongest geometric shape there is. One pound of wax can hold up to forty pounds of honey. And of course the hexagon is a shape found in sacred geometry. The hexagon has been making its way into my paintings recently.
Both Miquel and Tomas emphasized the importance of backyard beekeepers. With the disappearance of bees occurring all around the world, the more people who keep bees, the more we can help them to survive. Bees are important pollinators. We are dependent on the bees to keep many of our favorite foods pollinated, such as melons, squashes, almonds, and cocoa. Without the bees our diets would be much less interesting and nutritious.
I followed up on the workshop a couple of days later by going to the monthly meeting of Albuquerque Beekeepers, affectionally known as Beeks. I learned even more and met some really nice folks. The beekeeping community is very open and willing to share. People really love the bees and that love spills over to the community. I’m very excited to have begun this journey into the mysterious life of bees. I look forward to all the new connections I’ll make, both human and insect, the beautiful visual stimulation I’ll receive and of course to the honey I’ll eat.