Richard’s long experience as an organic beekeeper and creator of a socially/environmentally responsible honey business, combined with Jenny’s intuitive nature and obvious passion for nurturing bees, made for a fascinating and informative first class.
The relationship between bees and humans is a long one, as a 6,000 year old cave painting in Spain attests. A thin ochre figure reaches for a round hive in a tree as bees swarm. The image made me smile… golden sweetness upon the tongue is worth the pain of getting stung!
I was amazed by the utter complexity of life within the beehive. The female workers, comprising 90% of the population, live from 3 to 6 weeks and display a very orderly division of labor. As soon as a worker bee emerges from her cell as a newly hatched adult, she begins cleaning cells of debris, graduates a few days later to covering larval cells with beeswax, and ends her nursery duties with brood tending. Having reached a certain level of maturity, she now attends the queen, then shortly changes jobs again to receive incoming nectar from her sisters. Subsequent chores include packing pollen, comb building, ventilating the hive to maintain an ideal temperature of 97 degrees, and guarding against invaders. Only after fulfilling her share of each of these tasks does she leave the hive for her first day of foraging! I can hear the children already: “You mean she can’t just choose her favorite job and do it forever?!” What a lesson in community sharing and responsibility!
Equally fascinating is the use of pheromones, or chemical scents the bees produce to communicate with one another. I was surprised to learn that a bee will leave a pheromone on a flower it has just visited to alert others that the nectar is all used up. As if by magic, the pheromone dissipates when the flower’s nectar supply returns! Indeed, there is much magic surrounding bees, which Richard and Jenny openly acknowledge – a magic that continually adds to the awe and joy of beekeeping.
Written by Monika Hennig
This project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.