Honey and honey bees are a beautiful gift of nature. I love honey, it is so good just alone and wonderful in tea or on bread. Honey bees are amazing complicated little creatures that liven up our yard.
Honey bees are common throughout the world yet are not well understood. All honey bees worldwide share characteristics and similarities.
Honey bees are commonly misrepresneted in movies and the media. It seems like any insect that flies and people are scared of gets called a bee.
While bees are certainly capable of stinging you, so are many other insects that are not actually bees like the yellow and black striped wasps.
Backyard Sheep will show you how you can use a smaller acreage to raise sheep.
Who cares about bees anyway?
Well everyone should actually.
Honey bees are the primary pollinator of vegetable and fruits in the U.S. and other countries as well. Plants need pollinators to move the pollen from one flower to another, unpollinated flowers do not produce.
There are other pollinators and not all plants need a pollinator, but for those that do the honey bee is the pollinator most relied upon today.
To help clear up the confusion regarding what bees actually do and what they do not do here are some facts about bee life.
Honey bees can live in urban or rural areas.
Honey bees don’t really care where they live as long as they have a plentiful foraging area. Many beekeepers live in town or in neighborhoods.
If you are interested in raising a few animals in your area, but only have a small yard, consider reading How To Start Raising Rabbits.
Honey bees will make honey for anyone.
As long as you have a foraging area and a safe place for the hive bees can be nearly anywhere. Bees can be kept by people of almost any age.
Honey Bees are pollinators
While I personally like honey bees for the honey we get from their hives, the most useful service a honey bee provides is as a prolific pollinator.
All fruit and/or vegetable eaters in the world, animal kingdom included, rely on pollinators to help plants set fruit.
If a plant needs pollination by an outside source (can not self pollinate), then some one or something needs to move that pollen around to make sure the flower will produce food.
Bees make honey from flower nectar
Bees gather nectar from flowers and take it back to the hive where they fan down the nectar to make it more concentrated.
Nectar is very watery right from the plant. By fanning it down to a lower volume the sugar in the honey is concentrated so the honey will keep.
This also is a more efficient way of storing calories.
Bees store the honey for the winter
All of the work the bees are doing is to store up honey and other supplies for the winter.
Bees need to have all of the food the will use for entire winter in the hive before winter starts.
Worker bees are female
The worker bees in the hive are all female. There is one queen and multiple drones (males). All of the work in the hive gets done by the workers.
The queen just lays eggs, she does not even feed herself. The drones do nothing to make the hive function on a day to day basis.
They are completely dependent upon the workers to care for them. Drones are kept in the hive for the mating flight only.
Worker bees develop from a fertilized egg
A queen lays eggs that are fertile using sperm she has stored up from her mating flight.
All fertile eggs will be female. Any non fertile eggs will be male.
Queen start from a worker bee egg
Worker bees and queens start from the same eggs. The difference in results is that the to be queens are put in much bigger cell and are feed differently than the workers
Drones are male bees
Drones are male bees that do not do anything other than be in the hive and eat. This life of luxury comes at a high cost, since drones die after one mating.
Drones do not produce honey
Drones are in the hive for breeding purposes only. The queen will breed on one flight, the drones will die if they successfully mate.
Drones get kicked out of the hive before winter
The drone bees will not be kept in the hive for the winter. They will be pushed out by the workers. Unfortunately for the drones, being outside of the hive will cause them to die.
Queens can die
Any time the queen leaves the hive she is vulnerable to attack, like during swarming. The queen will shrink down in size to closer to worker bee size then grow again at the new hive.
The other way a queen can die is when she stops being productive the workers will start a few new queens to take over, this is called superseding.
Hives will swarm to move locations
When a hive gets too big for it’s current location the bees will swarm. This means just over half the bees will leave to go start a new hive.
Generally, swarms happen in the spring when the main gathering season is coming. This way the new and old hives have time to store up plenty of honey and pollen for the winter.
Honey bees are not aggressive
Honey bees are not aggressive towards humans. The only time they will get feisty is if they feel you are a threat to their hive or themselves, like stepping on one.
Stinging you comes at a high cost to the bee, she will die.
Normally you will notice the bees buzz by your head a few times to warn you away.
Take heed and they will go back to gathering nectar and you will not get stung. Keep coming into their space and they will defend their home.
Winter temperatures can kill bees
The bees form a ball of bodies inside the hive to keep warm during the winter.
But winter bee numbers are always lower than summer numbers so the hive is smaller, so there are less bees making heat.
If the cold is too severe or for too long the hive can die.
Some hives just die out
There has been a lot of news stories recently about hives dying out, just gone. This is called colony collapse disorder.
Colony Collapse Disorder does not have a scientifically proven cause so far, but many bee keepers and individuals concerned with ecology point towards pesticides and genetically modified crops as the catalyst for the bee deaths.
Bees go into their hive at night
Bees are on duty gathering nectar and pollen all day. Many flowers are not open in the night, so no nectar can be gathered until morning. Additionally, bees like the warmer daytime air temperatures.
Bees do not like to fly in the rain
If you observe a bee hive you will notice bees coming in and going out all day in nice weather.
The bees can tell when it is about to rain and stay in the hive rather than going back out for more nectar.
If you watch you will see bees only going into the hive none leaving right before a rain.
Bees see ultraviolet light
Bees have the ability to see ultraviolet light. This means that when you look at a flower your eyes see the flower differently than a bee would see the same flower.
Bees can sting you
Not a surprise to many I’m sure. What may surprise you is that the bee that stung you is a female.
I know getting stung hurt but overall the bee has it worse than you since she will die for her efforts.
Bees leave a stinger in your skin
When the bee stings you, she leaves a barbed stinger that is attached to a venom sac stuck in your skin.
Remove a stinger by scraping
You should remove the stinger as soon as possible. Remove the stinger by scraping it out, using something dull like the edge of a butter knife.
Why not tweezers? The pinch of the tweezers squeezes the venom sac that is on the end of the stinger, which just puts more of the venom into you.
Bees drink water
Bees drink water, especially in the summer. Bees can drown in water that does not have a shallow edge where they can safely drink.
Put something like a rock in the water bowl so they can sip from the edge, or float a stick on the water surface. This will also give them an escape option if they get too close and fall in.
Queen bees can fly
Queen bees rarely leave the safety of the hive. However, if the hive is going to split and swarm to a new location the queen can fly to get there.
Beekeeping is an old occupation
Humans have been beekeepers for centuries. We are used to sugar sources being plentiful but throughout history sugar is scarce and pricey. Honey was available willing to figure out how to get it.
It is common to buy a queen
Generally, when a beekeeper wants new breeding stock for the hive a queen is purchased. This is very normal.
Queens come in a screened box with candy
The queen is in a small box that has screened in sides for ventilation. The door of the box is stuffed with a piece of special candy that locks her in and keeps other bees out.
Bees do not like intruders so they will not like the new queen if she were just put in the hive. The bees know the difference.
The hive bees will work to get at the new bee (the queen) by eating through the candy. By the time they get to her she smells the same as they do thanks to the screened sides of her box and the bees will now accept her and take care of her.
Putting a new queen in the hive is called requeening
Requeening is done when a beekeeper wants a different or just a younger queen in the hive. Some beekeepers requeen every year, others hardly at all.
Queens lay 3,000 eggs per day
During peak production of the hive the queen will be laying up to 3,000 eggs per day.
Bees make wax
Wax is naturally produced by the bee. It is formed in scales at eight separate locations on the abdomen of the bee.
Bees use the wax to make honeycombs
Honeycombs are made from the wax of the bee. The bees use the wax to shape the honeycomb inside the hive.
Honeycombs hold larvae, pollen and honey
The honeycomb is the do it all area for the hive. This is where they store honey and pollen, both of which are food sources.
Honeycomb is also where the eggs are laid and the larvae grow.
Queens mate on a mating flight
When the queen emerges from her cell in the honeycomb she must now go on a mating flight.
This is the only time the queen will breed in her entire life is on this flight. She will breed with multiple drones.
She stores up the semen in her body. This is the reserve of semen that will fertilize all her eggs for the next four years.
Drones die after mating
Drones, male bees, will die after breeding the queen. Drones do not have a stinger.
When the drone breeds the queen his entire reproductive system breaks off and stays with the queen. He then dies of the injury.
Queens spend all day laying eggs
In order to grow the hive to a large number of workers to harvest food for and maintain the hive the queen must continually lay eggs.
Bee breeders select for queens that lay the most eggs and do so in a complete pattern (not leaving empty cells).
Queens release pheromones
Queens release pheromones that keep the hive calm and orderly. Pheromones are chemical signals that bees (and other animals) can smell.
The pheromones tell all the workers that things are going well and to keep working.
If you remove a queen from the hive or divide the hive into two sections but are not sure which stack of boxes has the queen all you have to do is wait and watch.
The hive without the queen will start to get very agitated and frantic. Being queenless is a serious situation for a hive of bees.
Queens can be replaced
The beekeeper can put in a new queen or the workers can start to make a new queen to take over for the old or missing queen.
A hive can be moved
Bees know which hive to return to based upon where exactly the hive is located. If you want to move a hive you have two options.
A hive can be moved only a short distance
Scoot the entire hive over four feet or less per day, gradually moving to their new location.
Long moves must be at least 4 miles away
Or you can take the entire hive and move it 4 miles away or more for a week or so then relocate it again.
Moving a hive is confusing
Why is this such a big deal? If you move the hive more than four feet the bees will return to a neighboring hive instead of their own.
This will cause the workforce of one hive to all go to another.
Sounds good for the hive getting the extra help but bad for the hive losing all of the workers that are out foraging.
Bees do not produce heat
It is commonly thought that bees produce heat to stay warm in the winter, since the hives are non insulated and not heated wooden boxes.
Actually, bees flap their wings creating friction, which creates heat.
Beekeepers use smoke to calm bees
When a beekeeper wants to see inside the hive to check the progress of the honey crop or just to see how the bees are doing, he uses a smoker to calm the bees.
A smoker is a metal container that holds smodering wood or paper pieces. The smoke makes the bees more amenable to having an intruder (the beekeeper) in their hive.
Africanized bees are in the U.S.
Africanized honey bees were brought to Brazil from South Africa to improve the hardiness of the local bees. These bees migrate and can live in unsheltered areas. The bad news is they are aggressive to people.
There are breeds of bees
Just like there are different breeds of cattle or chickens there are different breeds of bees.
Bees of each specific breed will perform and behave in a certain way.
Some breeds are calm, some are more aggressive, and all vary in hardiness and honey producing ability.
There are four popular bee breeds in the U.S.
The four most popular, and easiest to get, bee breeds are Italians, Russians, Carniolans and Cordovans.
New beekeepers start with package bees
Package bees are a screened in box of bees. It is about the size of a shoe box.
Bees are purchased by the pound
Since bees are so small they are sold by the pound, which is thousands of bees.
You have to start with a certain number of bees so the hive can have a big enough workforce to gather food for itself to store up for the winter.
Bees take 21 days to go from egg to worker
Once the fertilized egg is laid and the larvae hatches the workers feed it until it is ready to pupate (change into adult form).
Then the larvae is sealed up in its honeycomb cell until it breaks out as a full size adult a few days later.
The hive has the most bees in the summer
The hive has the highest number of bees in the summer.
The high population is to gather as much honey and pollen as possible for the hive to have in storage for winter food and starting more workers in the spring.
Bees vary in temperament
Bees breeds having different temperaments is the reason why people install new or different queens than the breed they have.
Some beekeepers like a more aggressive bee, they tend to be more productive and less likely to die in the winter.
Other beekeeper want a nicer bee to be around and are willing to take lowered production of honey.
Bees protect the hive
Bees will protect the hive anytime they perceive a threat. The threat could be you or wild animals or invaders from another hive trying to steal honey.
Bees communicate by dancing
Certain bees scout around the hive for nectar and pollen sources.
When they find one they come back to the hive and tell the workers that are gathering where the food source is located.
Bees pass this information to one another through various movements made while in the air right in front of the hive.
These info moves are called dancing.
Bee larvae must be fed
Once the eggs hatch the larvae must be fed to grow. Worker bees bring food to the larvae and put it in their cells.
Bees fan the hive
Bees fan the hive to remove moisture and heat from the inside of the hive body.
Bees will stand at the entrance of the hive facing the inside of the hive and flap their wings to move air through the hive and move moisture out.
Honey bees are in all 50 states
All 50 states have bees. The very cold areas will need to protect the bees for the winter.
Bees forage for nectar
Bees that you see flying around town or in your yard are looking for nectar to take back to the hive. Any bee that is out of the hive is working.
Some hives make more honey than others
Just like some people are great at sprinting and others are naturally slower, some bees are faster and more productive at filling a hive with honey than other bees.
Productivity will also depend upon location of the hive compared to nectar and pollen sources and time of year.
In the winter hives don’t produce anything since they do not have any food sources to gather.
Some crops are planted just for the bees
Some people like to plant crops specifically for bees to use. Bees love clover, buckwheat, alfalfa, thistle and dandelion.
Gardeners can attract bees
Many gardeners put in flowers especially for their ability to attract bees including aster, coneflower, poppies, black-eyed Susan and bee balm.
Any one who gardens knows the importance of pollinators since any plant that has a fruit, like cucumber and squash, need a pollinator.
Bees do not need a wooden hive
The wooden hive is for the benefit of people not the bees.
Wooden hives help the bees arrange the honeycombs in an order that makes it easy for the beekeeper to get out the honey and look into the hive.
Bee suits keep beekeepers from getting stung
A beekeepers suit keeps him (or her) from getting stung.
Even though the beekeeper has good intentions towards the bees and the hive, the bees don’t like intrusion.
The suit keeps bees out of the keepers face with a netted face mask and has elastic around the ankles and wrists so bees can’t sneak up in clothes.
Bee suits are always white
The beekeepers suit is always white. Bees seem to be more upset with darker colored shapes than lighter colored shapes so white suits are used.
Pesticides kill bees
Pesticides are poisons applied to plants to kill insects and bacteria.
Bees are killed by pesticides when the pesticides are sprayed on plants to keep off harmful bugs.
The bees are on the plants harvesting nectar and pollen. Bees do not harm plants.
The bees are not a target insect for the spray, they are collateral damage.
Frequently bees are harvesting in a crop field when it is sprayed for other bugs, but this also happens in home gardens and flower beds.
Any pesticide will kill species that are not the specific target of the pesticide, bees included.
A swarm can be caught
Before bees swarm they have a plan of where they are going. Sometimes they stop on the way, in a tree branch for example.
A beekeeper can catch the bees by encouraging them to go into a hive placed under the swarm.
Bees can’t be forced into a new hive
No matter how much the beekeeper wants the swarm, the bees can’t be forced into the new hive.
The bees could just choose to fly away to another location instead of using the hive the keeper wants them in.
Bees that are swarming don’t sting
Before the swarm takes off from their home hive they will all tank up on as much honey as they can so they don’t have to look for food on the trip to a new location.
Bees that are super full don’t want to sting you, they want to concentrate on getting to the new hive location.
Bees have built in navigation
Bees know where the home hive is located no matter where they are foraging.
This means they can go out from the hive in any direction to gather, generally up to two miles.
This also means that moving a hive causes lots of confusion for the foraging bees.
They are used to coming back to a specific spot and can tell the difference between the hive they came from and all the other hives lined up beside theirs.
Bees will steal from other hives
An undefended hive or a hive with poor defenders will get it’s honey stolen by other hive workers.
From the stealing bee’s perspective this makes a lot of sense, why do all the work to make honey when it can just be moved in ready to use.
Worker bees can decide to make a new Queen
If the worker bees feel that the current queen is failing or the hive is going to swarm, so the current queen will fly away, the workers will start a few new queens.
Potential queens are put in extra big cells called queen cells and are fed a special diet that makes them grow into queens, not just workers.
Workers and queens all start from a fertilized egg. It is the special feeding that produces a queen.
The first queen to hatch will kill the others
Just like in the movie, “there can be only one” queen. The workers will start several queens to make sure a queen is grown for the hive.
The new queen is ruthless.
The first thing she does after coming out of the cell is to go around and kill the other queens that are still in the cells.
She does this by stinging them through the wall of the cell.
The queen can sting and live
The queen is the only honey bee that can sting and live. Her stinger is not barbed so it doesn’t stay in the victim.
Queens rarely sting and will not be the one to sting you. She is too valuable to the hive to risk her getting hurt.
Bees can be poisoned
Bees forage in a large area. Any time poisons are applied in the area the bees are working, generally as pesticides, the bees are at risk.
Stinging you will kill the bee
This has been mentioned previously but here I will list it plainly, stinging you kills the bee.
When the stinger comes out of her abdomen so does some of her digestive tract and some muscles and nerves that are attached to the stinger.
This leaves a big hole in the body of the bee. She will die from her injury.
Drones do not have a stinger
It is hard to imagine, but drones don’t even have a stinger!
The drone has one purpose in the life of the hive, breeding the new queen on her mating flight. That’s it.
Drones do not defend the hive at all, so have no use for a stinger.
Queen bees are huge compared to workers
The queen is a very long and almost snakey looking bee when compared to the workers.
She needs to be extra long and round to hold the eggs to populate the hive.
The queen is hard to find
That sounds a little crazy I know since I just wrote about the queen being so big. The thing is there are so many bees crawling over everything in the hive it is actually hard to find the queen.
Some beekeepers have the queen breeder apiary (bee business) put a mark on the back of the queen, just a dot of paint, so that she is easier to find.
Apiary is the name for a business that sells bees
A beekeeper would order package bees and new queens from an apiary. Commonly, the apiary will also sell equipment like bee suits and hive equipment.
How long does honey keep?
Actually, honey does not spoil. It may crystallize or ferment (both still perfectly edible and sometimes done on purpose), but it does not spoil.
I am hesitant to say that honey keeps forever (literally), but am very willing to say that honey keeps for a long, long time!
How can I attract more bees to my yard?
You can attract bees by planting flowers they like to harvest, giving them a very shallow bowl to drink from and by not using pesticides.