With the sun over our shoulders, we took turns holding up the frames of our beehive to look at the bees. At first we saw a blanket of bees, but by blowing gently, the bees moved and we saw the six sided cells capped with honey, then some eggs, and larva. We saw bees drinking honey, with only their bottoms sticking out of the caps. We saw bees exchanging nectar. It was mesmerizing. We were surprised at how heavy the frames were. I certainly felt awkward at dislodging the propolis, moving the frames, prying them up with my new hive tool and trying to grab them with gloved hands. We were so afraid of crushing a bee!
How amazing it is that bees make their homes with their own bodies! Except for the wooden part of the frame, the bees had made everything we were looking at. The beginning of their home is the comb, which is the womb of the hive. They make the comb by eating honey, then turning it into wax through glands situated on the last four segments of their abdomen. They sort of “sweat” the honey out through these smooth areas of the bodies called wax mirrors. These glands reach their peak in worker bees between the 12th and 18th day of their lives. The bees must eat about 8 lbs of honey to produce 1 lb of wax. They can make up to eight plates of wax a day, which harden into paper thin scales. They then maneuver the scales into their mouths, mix it with secretions, and knead it into workable wax. The most amazing part is they make perfect hexagons with the wax, which fit together without any spaces. They can even form chains of bees and use gravity to get the shape of comb they want. A healthy, fertilized queen lays eggs to fill these cells nonstop for years, creating the eggs and larva we were observing.
Suddenly, the sound changed from a pleasant hum to a higher pitched louder noise. The bees started darting around my veil. They were coming out of the hive, and seemed agitated. Maybe we had smoked them too much, or maybe we had introduced too much cool wind to the brood, or maybe they were just done letting us view the inner workings of their self made home. Whatever changed their mood, we decided it was time to close up the hive. We quickly put two frames back in, trying to coax the bees out of the way, then the queen excluder, the super, and the top. They bees were in the dark again. The pleasant hum returned, as our second class was over all too fast.
Posted by Mary Ann Smiles
This project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.
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