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Reflections April 2016

As I Recall...

Gardening and Beekeeping – Hard Work with Priceless Rewards

By Jerry Ginther

I began to read all the books I could find on bees and beekeeping. I was fascinated by what I learned, not only about handling them, but by the importance they play in the pollination of plants. Plain and simply stated, we would perish from the earth without them.

The hobbies of gardening and beekeeping go very well together. My first introduction to the latter came at a very early age when I visited my Uncle Hal’s small farm. On those few acres he had several garden spots, many fruit trees, and five acres which he reserved for a crop rotation of corn, oats and hay. Located on the back side of the orchard was a neat row of white beehives. Prior to age 9 or 10, for obvious reasons, I was forbidden to go near those hives. However, long before then I had been stung several times and had a healthy respect for all types of bees, so the prohibition worked no hardship on my adventurous spirit.

Over the years I watched my uncle work with the bees, often without protective gear. I was intrigued with how easy it appeared to be. A few puffs of smoke at the entrance, then remove the lid, a few more puffs of smoke and the bees remained quiet on the frames as he lifted them carefully from the hive. One day, when the bees were behaving nicely for him, he invited me to slowly approach an open hive he was working – holding a frame covered by hundreds of those stinging insects. When I was close enough, he began to show me the difference in capped brood cells, capped honey cells and cells that were used for pollen storage. Then, in the center of a circle of bees, he pointed out the queen. Surprisingly, I was not stung.

From that introduction my interest was piqued. Not only did I continuously ask questions, but I began to read all the books I could find on bees and beekeeping. I was fascinated by what I learned, not only about handling them, but by the importance they play in the pollination of plants. Plain and simply stated, we would perish from the earth without them. Also, it became apparent why orchard growers in particular kept bees or rented hives from beekeepers; they were necessary to pollinate their fruit trees. By having hives on hand, they were not dependent on a possibly limited number of wild bees in the area to provide adequate pollination.

 

Interesting Facts about Bees

The cells contained in a honeycomb have another very important use: brood rearing. Honeybees go through what is known as a complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult), but not all the bees in a colony are the same size. Actually, there are three different sizes to accommodate the three different sects of bees in a colony – queens, workers and drones. Each of these requires a different size cell in which to grow to maturity. Worker cells make up the vast majority of the comb. Next in number would be drone cells, and finally only a very few queen cells would be constructed. The most fascinating aspect of the construction of these six-sided cells is that it is accomplished in total darkness, yet each one is perfect in its dimensions.

With the designation “worker bee,” it is apparent which of the three sects perform the most in the everyday activities necessary for the colony’s survival. Some of these chores are sentinel, housekeeper, nurse and forager. Only the worker, who is an under-developed female, is seen visiting flowers to draw nectar and gather pollen for bee “bread.” She is the only one equipped with a barbed sting with which to defend the hive. Her body is the only one containing glands to secret wax for comb building and royal jelly for feeding the larva stage of the developing “baby bee.” Workers must also care for the queen by grooming and feeding her as she goes about her endless march over the combs laying eggs in the empty cells that have been cleaned and prepared for that purpose by house workers. The governance of the colony is controlled by the worker bees; the queen bee does not rule.

The queen is merely an egg laying machine. She is the largest bee in the hive, the only queen, and performs no other function. In the course of 24 hours she may lay more than 1,000 eggs. Except for her mating flight, she will spend her life in total darkness. She will mate only one time in her life, which usually spans only three or four years. When she goes forth on her mating flight it will be straight up and she will mate, in the air, with the fastest drone to catch her. He will die as a result of this one mating.

She will return to the hive from which she came, usually to be the new queen of that colony. Since only one queen is tolerated in a hive, the old queen will abscond with approximately one-half of the workers in a swarm to establish a new colony elsewhere.

The drone is a male bee. He has no sting and does no work. Several hundred of them will be raised every spring and their only purpose is to mate with the virgin queens that emerge, usually in late spring and early summer. Those that do not meet their death by mating will be turned out to starve in the fall when nectar is in short supply.

Over the years I managed 12-14 hives. It is a labor-intensive hobby, but profitable in many ways. The comb and extracted honey sells very well, but the collection and extracting involves a lot of heavy lifting. However, rewards cannot always be measured in money. The benefits of the bees and the education provided by the hobby are priceless.

 

Jerry Ginther grew up in Sullivan IL and now resides in Texas. He has a degree in Christian Ministry and is the author of "Acquiring the Benefits of Biblical Wisdom, "available in e‑book format on Amazon.com.

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