What Do Bees Taste Like?

Ask a kid.

Every fall, I remove spare frames of drone larvae from my hives to help keep mite counts low. I freeze the larvae and give them to my friends who have chickens.

But in this case, the boys got to the bugs first. They tried to get me to try one, but I was too chicken.

 

Bee Freebie

Bees love a freebie. They will bypass a flower full of nectar to suck a drop of honey off the ground. It’s much more efficient to gather pure honey than to turn watery nectar into honey by digesting it, regurgitating it into a wax honeycomb cell, fanning it until it reaches the right consistency, then sealing it with more wax to cure.

The honey bee’s sucking tube, or proboscis, is a long, slender, hairy tongue that acts as a straw to bring liquid to the mouth. It’s assembled from two separate organs, the maxillae and the labium. The bee opens its mandibles and folds the two organs into a tube when it needs to suck, and then quickly moves the proboscis up and down while lapping with the flexible tip.

Wanna see it?

Leaving Home, from a Bee’s POV

Pardon the vertical video – it was the best way to capture my bees coming in for a landing in slomo. With the sunlight behind them, you can see their bellies full of nectar. All four of my hives are thriving, and I’m happy to report that Grandpa’s hive has doubled in size since I put it in the back yard two months ago.

How Bees Make Wax

The other day, I opened my hive to discover my bees clinging together like a cluster of grapes, “festooning,” the fancy word for bees making wax. In the hot months I like to put an empty box on top of the hive to help with circulation, but the bees decided they wanted to fill it with honeycomb.

The way bees make wax is fascinating. One of the best explanations is from William Longgood’s “The Queen Must Die” (1985):

“Usually only young bees are capable of making wax, but, when necessary, older bees can turn the trick, in the same way a retired craftsman can, in an emergency, recapture a former skill. After eighteen to twenty-four hours of clinging together, the temperature climbs to about eighty degrees Fahrenheit and a strange thing happens — tiny wax flakes appear on eight small, pocket-like glands on the abdomens of young bees.

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The bee scrapes off the wax with her forelegs and kneads and chews the secretion in powerful jaws until it is a soft, pliable ball.

She frees herself from the clinging mass and deposits the wax at the base of the sheet of wax foundation with its hexagon imprints. Quickly she moves away, and another bee takes over, perhaps a celebrated architect or artist, who pushes and tugs at the soft wax, drawing it out into the hexagon shape.

Then she, in turn, steps aside and still another craftswoman comes along to draw the cell out farther, each a specialist, it seems, in a different phase of cell building.”

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Grandpa’s Last Beehive

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Before Grandpa passed away last May, he asked me to take care of his bees. He was 89, and although he had years ago reluctantly given up his Big Sur beekeeping career because he was too frail to lift the honey-heavy hives, he still liked to watch the wild bees set up homes in a pile of deteriorating bee equipment in his backyard.

Now all that’s left is one hive. The bees were entering through a small crack in the top left corner.

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When I pried through a seal of gummy brown propolis, I found a very small colony trying to raise eggs in frames that had been destroyed by mice, wax moths and who knows what.

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The frames crumbled in places when I lifted them. I carefully searched, and found eggs and larvae. And a spot of honey.

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Then I saw the queen! (6 o’clock)

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I carefully transferred Grandpa’s frames into a deep I brought from home with four empty wax frames. I heard a collective thrum of excitement from the bees. I think they were overjoyed to have clean wax and more room.

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I used mesh drawer liners and duct tape to cover the entrances for the trip to the Bay Area.

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I secured the lid for the two-hour journey.

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Their new home was waiting when I pulled up at 10 p.m. I transferred them to the garden, removed the mesh (got stung on my right pinky finger), and fed them with a 1:1 sugar-water ratio. I also placed a super of sticky honeycomb on the ground nearby so they could find it in the morning for easy forage. I filled a planter tray with rocks and water so they could have water close by.

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In the morning, they made small, exploratory flights around the garden. I hope, with more room, new equipment, my mothering and Grandpa’s spirit, this little hive will survive.

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R.I.P.

Franklin Peace, 1926-2015