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Abuzz With Bees

By Anna Minsky

Our time on the mountain thus far has been packed with learning opportunities, finding educational moments every day in the garden, as well as regularly attending a wide variety of workshops. Last week we were fortunate enough to have three different workshops: beekeeping, bread making, and composting. Each workshop provided fuel that will keep us inspired and curious about its respective topic throughout and beyond our six months together.

The passionate beekeeper Nicole Balenger paid us a visit last Tuesday to share her contagious excitement for bees with us. Her enthusiasm was well matched by her thorough understanding of the complexity of the art of beekeeping. We spent the morning in the classroom covering a range of topics, including the biology of honeybees, the basics of beekeeping, honeybee pests, diseases, and the nuances of the social dynamics and roles that exist within a hive. Nicole has been keeping bees here in Highland County for the past 10 years, an ideal beekeeping climate due to its extended bee season and great foraging habitat.

In our morning together, Nicole drove home the significance of the clearly delineated division of labor between types of bees within a hive. The clear distinction of roles between the queen bee, worker bees, and drones enables the hive to function together as more than just a sum of its parts.

Queen Bee: her pheromones set the entire tone of the hive; she lays all of the eggs.

Worker Bees: care for the brood; protect the colony; build the comb; construct the nest; collect and store food; maintain the internal environment (different responsibilities at different phases of life).

Drones: reproduction is sole responsibility.

Together, these three types of honeybees form a complete hive: raising new bees, keeping their hive safe from intruders, producing honey, propolis, wax, acting as pollinators, and performing many other crucial functions. The complexity of the hive only thrives if all of its members are in their rightful places, performing their necessary functions.

Our morning session in the classroom provided us with ample information to make more well-informed observations and inquiries when we headed down the hill that afternoon to get to know our bees and try our hand at some basic beekeeping.

We used smoke to calm the hive before we opened up the boxes to explore. Once the boxes were open, we also used sugar water to quell the bees and prevent them from sending out warning signals that could lead to more aggressive behavior.

We opened up each of the boxes to check on the health of the hives.

We pulled out the outer frames first so as to lessen the chances of disrupting the queen, who tends to reside on the inner frames.

We were able to see a variety of stages of life on the different frames. The closed cells pictured here are capped honey cells.

The enlarged cells pictured here are drone brood cells. They are enlarged because the drone bees are bigger than the worker bees. The worker bees are gathered on top, caretaking the brood, waiting for them to hatch.

Bee colonies serve as great inspiration for our cohort as we continue to get settled finding our places on this mountainside. Just as the bees have their distinctive roles, we are taking turns with rotating chores and responsibilities so that we can function more cohesively as a whole as well as hopefully find the niches that suit each of us best.

Thank you Nicole!

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