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17 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

Honey bees use beeswax to build brood combs in their hives.  Bees build these combs both in their natural hives in the wild and in commercial hives maintained by beekeepers.  The brood comb looks a lot like the well known honeycomb.

Brood Comb

Brood Comb

The brood comb is made up of six sided cells. But, just as the honeycomb is used only to store honey, so the brood comb is used only for raising the colony’s young bees. “Brood” is the name given to young honey bees of all types and at all stages of development from egg through larva.

A honey bee colony has a single queen bee who lays all the eggs. The queen is the mother all the hive’s bees.  The queen lays 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day during the summer season.  She lays all these eggs in the six-sided cells of the brood comb.

The worker bees protect and nurture the queen’s eggs and larvae.  When the eggs hatch, the worker bees feed the young bees. The workers select a few from among the larvae to be queens.  Queen bees “are made and not born” in the sense that whether a larva grows to be a worker bee or a reproductive queen bee depends on diet.

The future queens selected by the worker bees are fed a diet of royal jelly – an extremely nutrient rich food produced by the worker bees.  The rest of the larvae are also fed royal jelly, but only for the first three days of life outside the egg.  Then, these future worker bees are switched to diet of pollen and honey.

A short time after the bee larvae hatch from the queen’s eggs, the brood comb’s cells become almost a “second egg” to the developing bees.  The larvae are sealed (“capped”) in the brood comb cells with an abundant supply of food. At maturity, they will emerge from the cells as full grown bees.

New Brood Comb

New Brood Comb

Brood combs are double-sided with cells on both sides. The brood combs are reused year after year.  The combs start out as a white wax color.  But, as years pass, the older brood combs develop a yellow, then, amber and, finally, an almost black color.

Brood Comb Blackened with Age

Brood Comb Blackened with Age

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12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The “Eastern honey bee” is also called the “Asiatic honey bee,” but is formally named “Apis cerana.”  The Eastern honey bee is to Asia what the Western honey bee, “Apis mellifera,” is to Europe and America.

The Eastern honey bee is found throughout Asia including China, Pakistan, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, and Bangladesh. This bee flourishes in the wild, but is also kept commercially for honey production. The Eastern Honey bee lives in smaller colonies than its Western cousin and produces slightly less honey per colony.

Of the eight breeds of Eastern honey bees, two, A. c. cerana and A. c. indica are commercially kept by bee keepers for the production of honey. Both types differ a bit in appearance from the Western honey bee.

A. c. cerana has yellow stripes on its abdomen.

A. c. cerana (Apis cerana cerana)

A. c. cerana (Apis cerana cerana)

A. c. indica has black stripes on its abdomen.

A. c. indica (Apis cerana indica)

A. c. indica (Apis cerana indica)

 

HIVE: What is a “Buckfast bee”?

12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The Buckfast Bee

The Buckfast Bee

Born in Germany, Karl Kehrle became a monk and took the name “Brother Adam.”  He was in charge beekeeping at the Buckfast Abbey in 1916.  The Abbey’s few remaining colonies of “Italian” honey bees were endangered by what was, then, called Isle of Wight disease.  The spread of the disease produced a major crisis because, then and now, the “Italian” strain of honey bee was the most favored and productive among commercial bee keepers in Europe and North America.  The “disease” was actually the work of the acarine parasitic mite which inhibits the ability of a bee to breathe and eventually results in the bee’s death.

Brother Adam

Brother Adam

By 1916, Isle of Wight “disease” had wiped out most of the honey bee colonies in the British Isles.  Brother Adam, used his few remaining colonies of Italian bees as part of a crossbreeding project that he hoped would produce a honey bee resistant to the disease.   He knew that his Italian bees had been crossbred with what were, then, called “English” bees.  (Now, also, known by the names “Black bees” and “German bees”).   He, also, knew that his Italian bees had proved to be unusually resistant to the disease.

Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey

Brother Adam believed that more crossbreeding with different strains of honey bees might produce a hearty bee that would be resistant to Isle of Wight disease.  He traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa gathering different types of bees including French, Turkish, Greek and even “docile” strains of African bees.  Each type of bee was, then, crossbred with his Buckfast bee.

Buckfast Bee

Buckfast Bee

The Abbey was located in an area near a large relatively bee-free valley.  Just the location needed for controlled crossbreeding of different strains of bees.  A single crossbreed could take almost a decade to develop, so Brother Adam’s project spanned 70 years.  The Italian bee survived Isle of Wight disease and continues to be the most popular honeybee with commercial beekeepers in both Europe and North America.

Brother Adam with Hives

Brother Adam with Hives

But the Buckfast bee has its own “slice of the market” remaining consistently popular with a significant number of beekeepers.  The Buckfast is a strong, healthy and productive pollinator, but tends to produce fewer offspring and less honey than its Italian competitor.

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Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

12 June 2014

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26 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

In a “swarm,” sometimes, as many as half of the bees in a honey bee colony will leave in one giant group (or “swarm”).  This departing swarm of bees will establish a new colony in a new location.

A colony of honey bees has many worker bees, a few drones, but only one reproductive queen. The queen is the only reproductive female in the hive and is, or will be, the mother of all of the hive’s worker bees and drones.

A honey bee colony may reach a certain size ideal for breeding and raising as many young bees as possible. But, with good weather and a lot of available food, the number of bees in a colony can grow until there are too many bees for a hive and its queen to handle.

When the number of bees becomes too large, the queen bee, together with a large group of worker bees, may leave the hive. This large group of departing bees is called a swarm.

Swarms are natural in the spring. Often the “old” queen will leave with half or more of the old colony’s population to form a new colony in a new location. The old colony will be the scene of, what is sometimes, a violent combat among newly hatched queen bees (called “virgin queens”).   Finally, the single surviving young queen will become the new queen of the colony.

Though rare, if the colony is large enough, there may be “afterswarms” later in the season. In an afterswarm, one or a small number of virgin queens will leave the hive with a large enough number of the colony’s bees to establish yet another colony in yet another location. If more than one virgin queen leaves with a single afterswarm, the young queens will “get along” until a new location is found.  But, after the new colony is started, the young queens will engage in a cut-throat competition until only one surviving queen bee is left. She will become the reproductive queen of the new colony.

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June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            In a honey bee colony, the brood is the population of young honey bees, in the egg, larva and pupa stages. Honey bees are all the offspring of a colony’s single queen. But the brood is raised by the worker bees. Worker bees cannot reproduce.

A honey bee colony lives in a structure called a beehive, which contains “combs.”  Made of beeswax, the comb, itself, is a structure made up of small six-sided cells.  Honey or pollen is stored in some combs.  While other combs, called brood combs, are used for the rearing of young honey bees.

The queen bee tends to lay eggs in a circular pattern in the brood comb. When the eggs hatch, the workers select a few of the larvae as potential queens.  These larvae are placed in special brood comb cells called queen cups. The workers continue to feed the potential queens royal jelly. And it is the diet of royal jelly that causes the larvae chosen to be queens to grow into fully reproductive female bees.

The worker bees feed the rest of the larvae royal jelly for only first three days of life.   Then, those larvae, not chosen to be queens, are switched to a diet of nectar or diluted honey and pollen. This diet assures that the rest of the young larvae will develop into worker bees and will not grow into reproductive adults.  Male, “drone,” bees develop from unfertilized eggs and are placed in slightly larger cells of the brood comb.  Young drones are fed the same diet as the worker bees.

The growing worker bees will stretch out in a cell and spin a cocoon for themselves. When this happens, the nurturing worker bees “cap” the cell. The young bees in their cocoons inside the capped cells enter the pupa stage of their development. During this time, the group is called a “capped brood.” The young worker bees emerge from their cells in about two weeks.

Immediately after a young queen comes out of her cell, she will seek out and try to kill her sister queens. The queens that come out of their cells first will sometimes go so far as to find and burrow into the cells of their sister queens stinging them to death before they have emerged from their cells. There can be several such contests leading up to the “selection” of the colony’s next queen.

Commercial beekeeping hives have removable drawers containing different combs. Certain drawers are positioned to support brood combs. Others are placed to encourage their use as honeycombs. These drawers make harvesting the hive’s honey much easier for the beekeeper and much less disruptive for the bees.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

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12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

An apiary is a small area in which the hives of domesticated honey bees are kept by beekeepers.  “Bee yard” is another word of an apiary.  And the size of the front or back yard of an average home is about the size of a traditional apiary.

Still as late as the 1960’s, farmers would rent (for honey) a small area of land to a beekeeper as an apiary. In those distant days, beekeepers would ask a farmer’s permission to move their hives, temporarily, near the farmer’s blooming crops to allow the bees to gather honey and pollen.   Then, beekeeping was about honey production.

Everything has changed.

Now apiaries are a home base where beekeepers keep their moveable hives when it isn’t pollination season. During that season, when the crops bloom, beekeepers engage in what can be an almost frenzied flurry of activity as they transport their hives, sometimes over hundreds of miles, to “pollination sites.”

Why? Because, today, beekeepers make most of their money (and they “do well”) providing pollination services. Honey production has become almost a sideline.

What happened?

Giant farms with a “giant” amount of crops.  And a shortage of bees. In the first half of the 20th Century, bees were plentiful. No farmer had to go out searching for bees to pollinate. Bees were so numerous, they were sometimes a nuisance. Now, fortunes (fortunes!) ride on the successful pollination of crops — a pollination that must happen in a very narrow window of time.  Beekeeping, although not a popular profession, in modern times, is certainly a profitable one.

The main challenge to keeping a modern apiary is location. During the off-season (that is all seasons other than pollination season), honey bees must eat and raise their brood (young bees). Locating an apiary requires that there be sufficient sources of pollen and honey within a radius that is comfortable for the type of bees kept.

Sometimes, a beekeeper can’t choose the location of the apiary. Then, the bee population and the number of hives must be adjusted to match the food supply within a comfortable distance.

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12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            A “queen bee” is the “queen” of a colony of honey bees. Honey bees live in colonies and build rather complex structures called hives. A queen is the mother of all of the hive’s population including the (female) “worker bees” and (male) “drone” bees. So, in each colony, there is only one reproductive female. That female is called the queen.

So, you have wonder. What does it take to become the queen? Surprisingly, the queens are selected by the worker bees themselves. The queen’s eggs are cared for by the worker bees. After the eggs have hatched, the young bee larvae continue to be raised by worker bees.

Together, the eggs and the larvae are called the colony’s “brood.” The members of the brood are raised in comb — not unlike a honeycomb. But the separate “brood comb” is used only to house the young bees — the members of the growing brood. As the worker bees nurture the brood, they select certain larvae and feed them a special diet of special food called royal jelly.  The diet causes these larvae to develop into reproductive queen bees.

From there, the young queen’s life becomes an adventure. With the hatching of the new young queens, the old queen may depart the hive with a “swarm.” That is, the old queen will leave with some, but not all, of the workers in the hive. The swarm will find a new location. There, they will build a new hive and form a new colony. When you find out what happens next, you’ll understand why the old queen, sometimes, wants to “get out of town” as fast as possible.

The young hatching queens are called “virgin queens.” The first young queen to emerge from her “cell” will hunt out any other young queens and try to kill them. Young queens don’t fight fair. Rivals will be stung to death as they are emerging from the cells of the brood comb. Sometimes, not content to wait for their potential rivals to actually emerge from their brood cells, young queens will burrow into existing cells and to sting the resident-rival to death.

Although the old queen may have left with a swarm of followers to form a new colony, the process may be repeated with yet another swarm leaving the colony with a group of (surviving) young queens. The group of young queens will get along until the new colony is established. But once things settle down, the virgin queens will have the same type of cut-throat power struggle as they did when they first emerged from their cells. They will fight to the death until there is only one left.

Then, the last virgin queen will mate. After mating, the queen bee releases a pheromone that causes the colony’s worker bees to recognize her as the only queen. And all will be well, until new queen becomes too old or ill to reproduce. With the queen’s illness or infertility, the worker bees (the queen’s former “loyal” subjects) will turn on her. The workers will patiently wait until a new young queen bee has hatched. Then, they will crowd around the old queen so densely that she cannot escape. Finally, the worker bees will sting the old queen to death.

All-hail the new queen!

 

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri