Month: May 2014

Life in a Honey Bee Colony

Life in a Honey Bee Colony

Like bees to honey, Chester gardeners were drawn to a recent Garden Club talk to learn about the honey bees themselves. Dave Adams, a certified beekeeper and a member of the Chester Garden Club, gave a very entertaining and informative presentation about life in a bee colony. 1-DSCF8301 aDuring the warm months, a typical colony contains about 50,000 bees, each with its specific role to play in supporting the group, so that the whole colony acts as a single body, an organizational structure which is described as a “super organism”.

Worker bees make up about 98% of the colony’s population; these female bees do all the work in the hive (cleaning the hive, building the combs, feeding the young, foraging for nectar and pollen, and defending the colony). The queen is also female but her sole role is to mate, produce eggs, and thus ensure the colony’s future population. The rest of the bees are the male drones whose only role is to try to mate with the queen on her single mating flight.

A sample hive, along with accessories needed to gather honey.
A sample hive, along with accessories needed to gather honey.

Dave brought along a typical “hive” used in Nova Scotia and he passed around a sample screen on which bees had built honeycombed cells. His excellent photos provided clear illustrations for his talk, and helped him explain the botany of the flowers and the physiology of the bees, both of which are integral to the process by which bees make and store honey. Dave pointed out that the younger worker bees, after emerging from the larval stage, spend about the first 20 days of their lives working inside the hive. Later, as they mature, they graduate to the jobs of foraging and bringing back food for the colony. His description of the Queen’s finesse in laying the eggs destined to become either worker, drone, or possibly a future queen, was a highlight of his talk. The following photos are a small sample of the many photos that enriched his talk.

Honeybee brood cells
The three different shapes of cells into which the queen will lay a single egg.
A worker bee checking the honey-filled cells.
A worker bee checking the honey-filled cells. Note that those on the right have been capped.
Underside of a bee showing the wax glands.
Underside of a bee showing the wax glands that produce the material used in building combs.
Worker bees surround a new queen to absorb the scent of her particular pheromone.
Worker bees circle a new queen to absorb the scent of her particular pheromone, which will establish a colony link. The blue spot is a marker placed on the queen by the beekeeper.
Worker bees at the entrance to a hive exhibiting the typical "bottoms up" to send a signal to their sister bees.
Worker bees at the entrance to a hive exhibiting the typical “bottoms up” to send a signal to their sister bees who are out foraging.

Dave concluded his presentation with a reminder of the importance of bees as pollinators for our food crops and thus their importance to Nova Scotia’s economy (especially the blueberry crop). He noted that worker bees are perhaps the only animals willing to  give up their right to bear young , and even their lives, for the good of the community.  Having realized that fact,  it doesn’t seem much of a sacrifice for gardeners to focus on planting the particular types of flowers that will feed the bees and thus encourage them to continue pollinating our crops.