A Bee's Life

 A Bee's Life

Bees begin their life in an egg – 3 days, then as a grub for a week in an unsealed cell, where it is fed pollen and royal jelly, by nurse bees. How much it is fed determines whether it will be Queen or worker! Then the cell is sealed over and waits until the bee hatches – 21 days for a worker, 24 days for drones, and Queens only 14 days. Royal Jelly is produced by the bees – it’s baby bee food.

Baby bees first become nurse bees before they are gatherers. Their job is to feed and look after younger bees for about two weeks, then they become field bees – gatherers.

Bees never sleep, in summer when gathering honey, they virtually work them selves to death – they live approximately 6 weeks, but, in winter with not as much to do they live approximately 6 months.

Queen bees live between 2 – 3 years. They are really only egg laying machines. Worker bees feed and clean her. She can lay male or female eggs at will. (pretty clever stuff). As I said before, the only difference between a worker bee and a Queen bee, is the amount of feed in infancy. A worker is an under developed female. She can lay eggs if things get tough – only drones (male bees) though.

Drone bees are male. They do no work, just bludge, so when feed is in short supply, the drones get thrown out of the hive and die. They usually live about 6 months, before getting killed.

Hives will produce queens, only when their queen has become to old or when they have decided to swarm – split from the hive and make a new one.

Keeping Bees

Bees are kept in wooden boxes – 8 or 10 frames in each, 2 sides to each frame. Each frame has a mid rib of honey comb pattern, to ensure the bees build the shape required to be able to extract the honey efficiently.

Hives are worked in boxes of 1, 2 or 3 stacked on top of each other, number depending of strength of hive, amount of honey etc. These boxes have a top and bottom – removable – weather proof, with closable openings.

A three storey hive on average would contain approximately 50 – 60 thousand bees.

When bees have taken nectar back to their hive, they then fan their wings to get the moisture out of it, before they seal it with wax – they make from their glands.

Bees keep their hives at a fairly constant temperature of 22 degrees celcius. by fanning their wings. On a hot summers day you will see them hanging in bunches out of the hives, trying to get cool.

Worker bees hatch out moving like wobbly babys – slow and unsure, But queens hatch out, immediately very active and aggressive, and the first one out kills all remaining unhatched queens. Therefore beekeepers have to be very vigilant if trying to raise queens, and be ready to place them right to time, in hives made ready for them – called nukes.

Working Bees

Beekeepers use veils to prevent getting stung in the eyes or on their faces. Some use gloves and suits as well. Archibalds breed their bees away from aggression, so as to make working the bees a lot easier.

Another name for a beekeeper is apiarist. Apiarists can breed their own queens or buy from queen breeders, who will post the bees out to them. The bees bought this way arrive in little boxes, flywire on top, one queen and 3 or 4 workers to look after her and a little candied honey to eat in each box.

Working the bees

Bees have two main natural enemies. One is bears. Therefore don’t wear dark Woolly clothing near them. That will stir them up and you’ll get stung. The 2nd enemy is fire: This frightens them and they don’t sting – they just try to hide, so therefore beekeepers all use smokers to control the bees.

A smoker is a can of fire with a bellows on it to draw air over the fire and cause it to smoke.

There are three breeds of bees used for honey production in Australia: Carnolian, Caucian & Italian. Italian bees are more yellowy, Caucian and Carnolian are darker coloured, with Caucian generally being the quietest. Bees are bred for their gathering ability and quietness.

The beekeeping industry in Australia is quite small. Many apiarists are part time in the industry, but there are large apiarists as well. Archibald Apiaries and Richardson Apiaries,(brother inlaws) work together, and within a small circle of apiarists, helping each other with information on honey flows etc.