Saturday, June 13, 2009

Honey Bees

Honey bees are very interesting and amazing creatures.
They are considerably easy to care for and require only a small amount of maintenance.

If you don't own a hive, then one could seem rather daunting to have in the yard. When, in fact, bees can be very pleasant to own. We bought our current hive about 3 years ago which is the longest we've ever had one. Our other 2 didn't survive. There are many ways a hive can die, some by hive beetles which eat the brood, some by disease including CCD, some by wild animals. Ours were hit by the beetles and they also might have swarmed leaving behind a weakened hive. The population of a good hive can average between 40,000 to 80,000+ bees in the summer.

The brood which the beetles eat are the eggs and larvae that live in wax cells until they emerge as full grown worker or drone bees. Sometimes a Queen also. Workers are females that run the hive, scout for flowers, make honey and cannot lay eggs. The drones are male bees. They do not work and their purpose is to mate the Queen.
The Queen lays up to 2,000 eggs a day.
Drones hatch from unfertilized eggs. Females hatch from the fertilized ones. All the brood are first fed with a special food produced by the worker bees called royal jelly. Soon they are just fed pollen and honey. The one larva that will be a new Queen is fed solely on royal jelly. Royal jelly can be bought at health food stores, but it is very expensive.

It is a health supplement like pollen and propolis, though it in itself can cause allergic reactions. You may come across the "honey snack" sort of thing that includes pollen, propolis, honey and honeycomb all in one little package.

Now, let's talk about the most common subject associated with honey bees.
The Honey.

Honey is made by bees gathering the nectar from flowers and blossoms while storing it in a second stomach, then given to the worker bees who mix it with enzymes for about half an hour and then regurgitate it into the wax honeycomb to dry. After awhile most of the water is dried up from the honey and the color and consistency changes and therefore becomes the honey that you possibly have never eaten before. That's right. I said never eaten before.

This is because the honey straight from the hive is raw honey. The most pure and unprocessed honey that is the very best for you. When bought raw and locally and eaten daily, honey can cure allergies (It can also be applied like an ointment on cuts and burns).

Locally meaning extracted from a hive in close range of where you live. More research is being done on honey as a health supplement and it is gaining popularity in natural foods and even cosmetics such as lip balm and shampoo.

When the bees forage for the nectar they can travel up to one mile from the hive. When they find a resource they fly back to hive and display a kind "dance" that informs the rest where the exact location of the blossoms or flowers are.

Often, depending on what is blooming or growing at the time of making and storing it, the honey can be labeled as a certain kind or flavor.
Such as, one year dad planted a small field of clover in the back yard and that year we had lightly colored, lightly flavored clover honey. This is one of the most popular kinds of honey. Another year we had huge amounts of wild blackberry bushes blooming, so we had darker, more richly flavored blackberry honey. There are many different kinds blossoms that bees particularly love including wildflowers, berry blossoms, fruit tree and clover blossoms.

And there can be hundreds of different combinations they use. The darker the honey, the better it is said to be for you. Often when dad sells his honey, the blackberry is requested.

The next most often associated subject with bees are the the stings. All bees sting. But, if your hive is considerably "docile" and not often disturbed, then stings should not be a problem.
Then of course, there are aggressive bees. Aggressive honey bees can be dangerous and of course if you are allergic, even deadly. But so far, I have yet to hear of a death by domesticated honey bees that attacked for no reason. While we are speaking of aggressive bees though, let me point something out.

"Killer bees" or africanized honey bees will not attack someone unless disturbed or threatened. They are EXTREMELY aggressive though. They can kill a person if the person is not in the position to escape the bees. So saying, running, jumping into water, etc will not get rid of the bees. Read The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook for more information.

So, unless you are allergic to the stings themselves, honey bee stings should not pose much of a problem. In fact, they are sometimes used by people to treat arthritis. If you are stung, the best thing to do is quickly scrape the stinger out of the flesh with a credit card or very dull knife in a horizontal direction.

Honey bee stingers have barbs that catch in the skin and a venom sac that can keep releasing venom even after the bee pulls away and dies. Bees that sense an intruder or danger release a pheromone that alert the hive to attack.

Now, did you wonder what I was referring to when I said swarm? Every now and then, a new Queen will take a substantial amount of workers and leave the hive to find a new home. This is called Swarming. They will go to the new nest that the worker bees have already scouted out and immediately start to build up the hive with wax and brood.

And I'm sure you know what pollen is, but do you know how the bees use it?
Pollen is used as a protein feed for the brood and can also be extracted from the hive for human consumption if it is the right kind of bee hive.

While propolis is made with resin or sap from a tree. It's used as "glue" along with wax to seal cracks in the hive or nest and is very good for people.
Though who would want to eat bee glue?

Wax is also used to make the cells and honeycomb by the bees. It is used in candle making and can be chewed like gum. We call it honey gum around here and a great deal of it is consumed during and after the extraction process.
To make wax, the bees hang in "chains" while a special gland on their abdomens start to produce a liquid that forms a small, thin scale of wax. It is then turned into the structure of the hive or nest.

Now, to get the honey from the hive, each year in the spring or summer, Dad goes out to the hive with a smoker, veil and a tool for prying the super off the rest of the hive (A super is a box like piece of the hive that frames are kept in).
While he is smoking the bees and transporting the super back to the house, the rest of us are preparing the extractor and heating a knife. The smoke causes the bees to gorge themselves on honey so they are much less likely to sting. As soon as dad has the super at the house, he blows the remaining bees off the frames with a leaf blower.
Then he brings the very heavy frames into the house for decapping and extraction.
To decap the honey, a hot knife is used to melt the wax capping off the honey. It falls off in slabs and is moved to a strainer to get as much of the honey off as possible. After this, the decapped frames are moved to what looks like a large, metal barrel with an ice cream churn on top. Inside is a slotted frame that the super frames are placed into. After shutting the lid, dad quickly turns the handle until the frame on the inside is spinning very fast. He does this several times till all the honey is in the bottom of the extractor. He repeats it with the rest of the super frames.
Then the cover of the drain at the bottom of the extractor is opened and all of the honey is strained into huge 5 gallon glass jars. After this the hive is put back together and the sticky kitchen floor is washed.
Lord willing, we will be extracting the honey from our hive soon.

If pictures are taken, I will try to post some.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the post and Blessings!



  1. Happy, happy birthday, Olivia!!! I hope you have a wonderful, blessed day!


  2. Thank you very much, Camille!!!
    It was lovely!

    Blessings and hugs,

  3. Sting season has begun! Learn how to cure stings instantly at

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