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Entering the Secret Life of the Honey Bee 

By Larraine Roulston:

This summer I had a great opportunity to shadow my brother-in-law Bob while he tended his backyard bee hives. As a Examining a honeycomb mainseasoned beekeeper and member of the Capital Region Beekeepers’ Association in Victoria, BC, Bob has 11 hives, each containing rows of hanging combs, all buzzing with activity. Donning the bulky white suit, mask, hat, gloves and boots, I was then ready to view their amazing contribution to our ability to grow food.

As Bob pried out each tray to inspect the progress of the honeycombs as well as the health of the bees, I expected to be swarmed by lots of buzzing bees.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they all remained on their individual combs, focusing on their work.

A female worker bee, specializing in a team effort both day and night, accomplishes a great deal. The jobs she performs during her short life vary according to her age. Her initial duty is to clean out the cell from which she has just emerged, then to carry on to clean other cells in order to receive new eggs, and store nectar and pollen. Next, she is tasked with clearing dead bees from the hive. As the young worker bee ages, she tends to her siblings by feeding and caring for the developing larvae. Later, she receives nectar and pollen from her older sisters as they return from foraging. Young bees take turns as attendants to the queen bee, and to help control the temperature and humidity of the hive.

Being a beekeeper requires dedication; however, the knowledge of caring for pollinators as well as being able to collect a continuous supply of local fresh honey and beeswax provides more than adequate rewards. As Bob commented, “I still have a lot to learn. The bees are always teaching the beekeeper new things.”

Backyard beehivesOn the same trip I visited City Farmer. Designed as a composting demonstration site located in a residential area of Vancouver, BC, City Farmer also has an array of wonderful trees, herbs and flowers to entice pollinators. I noticed that there were at least eight honey bees, one bumblebee, along with a fluttering white butterfly hovering over their purple flowering patch of thyme. Here, I learned that bees also need to drink water. To help bees, an individual could set out a large water dish with stones protruding to enable the bees to land. Also, I was shown an “Insect Hotel”—an arrangement of hollow logs, pipes or holes drilled into wood that is stacked in such a way that insects can find shelter and rest. In nature, insects nest and find refuge in areas such as hollow reeds. City Farmer staff and volunteers host composting workshops for visiting students as well as present worm bin demonstrations in area classrooms.

Not everyone is inclined to become a beekeeper; however, if you have an urban garden, you might be interested in constructing an insect hotel or a solitary bee resting place. The mason bee, for example, is a solitary bee that is an amazingly efficient pollinator for gardens and orchards. If you make nesting blocks for these bees, you will discover that they are very industrious and fun to observe. By mimicking what nature offers, bee hotels support bee health by enabling them to nest and rest their wings. Holes 5/16” wide and 4-10” deep drilled into wood have proven to be ideal. By reusing scrap material for its construction, you will be providing an ecologically-productive alternative to waste.

The links below detail the procedure.

Related Links:

http://www.davesbees.com/buildblock.html

http://solitarybee.com/2012/11/mason-bee-drill-holes-in-logs/

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/marion/sites/default/files/2012_mason_bee_liners.pdf

http://phigblog.com/2010/02/27/making-mason-bee-homes/

www.cityfarmer.info

Larraine authors children’s illustrated books on composting at www.castlecompost.com.  

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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