This year I have started keeping bees. Below are some fun facts that led me to and keep me interested in my hobby.
TYPES OF BEES
Honey bees are actually not native to the U.S.. Many found in the US are from Europe and Africa. The friendliness of your honey bees depends on the type of bees that you purchase. I got lucky with my mut bees from Georgia.
Inside of the honey bee hive there are 3 main types of bees: the queen, workers, and drones. There is only one queen per hive. She is larger than all of the other bees and her job is to lay eggs. If the worker bees decide to produce another queen, part of the hive will take off with her. The workers (all female and the smallest in the hive) are responsible for many tasks around the hive. They forage for nectar and pollen to store. They feed the queen and raise the young. They also clean the hive and the queen. Drones (all male and larger than the workers) live to mate with the queen. The mating kills them and their duty is done.
There are around 4,000 native bee species in the U.S.. Although, these are not kept by humans like the European honey bee, they are still very important to local pollination.
Keeping bees so far has proven to be a passive hobby. I ordered my bees and picked them up. They come in a simple wooden box, with the queen in her own little box. The top of this box comes off and you dump them into the hive. Once they have been closed in, some feeding and checking on pests is the bulk of the work. The pheromones of the queen bee keep the others coming back to the hive.
There are many parts to a bee hive and protective gear is necessary. The cost of initial set up should be considered if you are interested in keeping bees. Bees eat and drink just like we do. A constant water and food source should be provided for them.
Once they are all set up in their hive and water and food have been provided, you can sit back and watch them work. In addition to working, bees dance to let each other know where food can be found. They will travel up to around three miles to forage.
PLANTING FOR BEES
Bees are attracted to flowers that provide both good pollen and nectar sources. Just because a flower has pollen and nectar, does not mean that a bee can get their tongue down into it. Flowers such as peonies and many roses; although beautiful, have too many petals guarding these vital resources. Bees also like flowers with plenty of landing space, such as sun flowers, coneflowers, herbs, and many other flowers and tree flowers. Bees can see the ultraviolet light spectrum, which adds an additional layer to deciding which flowers to visit.
BEE INSPIRED ARCHITECTURE & FASHION
Many architects and designers have been inspired by the geometry of honey comb. Its inherent structural form lends itself to designs like the Vessel; a spiral stair in New York City’s Hudson Yards. While its natural beauty is replicated more simply in shade structures and other decorative designs.
Bees have also inspired the fashion world with many fun patterns and hairstyles like the beehive.
Mead is believed to outdate the existence of both beer and wine! When people think of mead, they usually picture a medieval setting. Cue Game of Thrones. I’m happy to share that there is a modern version of this honey drink and it’s wonderful!
The different flavors of mead come from the varying food sources consumed by the honey bees who produced the honey. It’s astonishing how different mead can taste depending on whether the bees ate clover or orange blossom nectar.
WHAT’S KILLING THE BEES?
When the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind their queen, this is referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The cause of CCD has yet to be identified, but the USDA has identified four major factors that affect honey bee health: parasites and pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and exposure to pesticides.
So, what can you do? If you keep bees, you should proactively treat them for parasites such as varroa mites, hive beetles, and wax moths. If diseases are found, antibiotics are available for treatment. Good nutrition comes from the availability of nectar and pollen from a wide variety of flowers. Feeding bees throughout the winter; when their food source is low, is necessary. If you are not a bee keeper, you can plant native flowers for the bees! Studies are mixed on the true effects of pesticides on bee health. Regardless of whether you keep bees or not, limiting your use of pesticides will improve the health of bees in your area.
Bees are necessary for the pollination of many of our food sources. Our state apiarist has stated that “bee pollination is estimated to contribute to as much as $118 million in additional value to Tennessee crops.” Bees can be found being shipped across the U.S. to support the pollination of many large farms.
BEES AROUND NASHVILLE
Bees can be found in the most unlikely places around Nashville. There are four hives living on the green roof of the Music City Center downtown. Centennial Park is the home to a few hives. You can see them on a stroll near the Parthenon, if you look closely at the little island in the pond. Ellington Agricultural Center is another location with multiple hives. One of which was relocated from a dead tree near Andrew Jackson’s tomb at The Hermitage.