The Secret Life of Bees
Some time ago a very dear friend came with me for the first time to my bee friends and, seeing his legitimate concern, I was reminded of a sentence from a beautiful book that goes like this:
“Don’t be afraid, because no life-loving bee feels like stinging you, but at the same time don’t do anything stupid: wear shirts and long trousers. Don’t wave your hands. Don’t wave your hands to chase them away. If you are tense, whistle. Tension makes bees nervous, but whistling calms them down. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, communicate love. Every little creature wants to be loved.”
In my opinion a very sweet piece of advice for dealing with these little creatures and at the same time a great recommendation for a wonderful read: ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd.
Thinking back to this episode, I reflected on how little most people know about the complexity of existence inside a beehive.
In fact, it can be said that bees have a secret life that few people know about.
For example, did you know that a single bee, in order to produce 1 kg of honey, flies about 150,000 km, almost four times around the earth?!
I find it fascinating to think that the honey we consume every day is the result of so much work and such long and adventurous journeys.
Not everyone knows how the social life of a beehive is organised, with the worker bees, the drones and the queen, but above all that the worker bees are distinguished from each other by the tasks they perform according to the time that has elapsed since their birth, let’s see which ones.
First and foremost, a beehive must be kept clean and tidy, which is why there are the Sweeper Bees, whose job it is to keep everything tidy, as well as the pitiful task of removing dead bees from the hive.
Then there are the Nurse Bees, who look after the brood, feeding the larvae initially with royal jelly and then moving on to honey, pollen and small amounts of water.
The Wax-making Bees are the ones who build the honeycombs: they are true mathematical geniuses from the way they create perfect hexagons… they have discovered that this is the best way to save wax and optimise space: the hexagonal cells can be placed side by side, with common walls and no empty spaces. Maximum yield, minimum expense!
The task of managing the essential substances in the hive, such as nectar, water, pollen and propolis, is assigned to the Storekeeper Bees, who then take on the role of Guardian Bees, protecting the hive by only allowing the bees of the family to enter.
The last activity in the life of worker bees is that of Forager Bees. They have good orientation skills and a tireless heart and are the ones who go around collecting nectar and pollen… in a single day they can visit up to 225,000 flowers.
The only males are the Drones, who are quietly waiting to mate with the Queen….
Not bad, you might say! Too bad that at the end of summer the poor drones are no longer needed and are evicted from the hive. It is not uncommon to see real fights, with drones flying with bees attached to their bodies to drive them away.
Finally, there is the Queen Bee and her court… a group of bridesmaids who feed her, bathe her, keep her warm and cool as needed! You can always see them bustling around her, even stroking her.
The Queen Bee lays her eggs and is the mother of all the bees in the hive, which depends on her for its functioning. No matter what work they do, the bees know that the Queen is their mother. The mother of thousands of bees. Think about the fact that she can lay up to 1500 eggs in a single day and she is the longest living bee, as she lives three to four years compared to 42 days for a worker bee.
We could talk for hours about the different tasks of these small and fragile insects, their logic of flight, the language they use among themselves, the multitude of flowers they visit or the various types of honey they produce.
We will try to tell you about them a little at a time in this blog, although the best and most fascinating thing is to take part in the educational visits that we will soon be organising on the farm.
To listen to a detailed account of their lives and the process that leads to the production of this amazing product that is honey, but above all for the fascination of wearing a beekeeper’s suit with a net mask and slowly approaching the hives enveloped by the calming smoke of the smoker, letting yourself go to the melodious hum of hundreds of bees around you.
By the way, my friend followed my advice that day, calmed down and enjoyed the magical experience. Now he always asks me when he can go back to “his” bee friends.