Beekeeping is just plain fascinating to me. Everything I’ve learned about bees is far more complex than I imagined and I think the role of the drone is far more complex too.
All I ever hear about drones is they are fat, lazy, don’t do any work and are only good for one thing – mating. I feel and have always felt this can’t be accurate. I truly believe Nature doesn’t create anything to be lazy and have only one purpose (including people, especially teens, but that’s another blog altogether!), so I think there has to be more to the Drone’s Story.
It is a fact that drones mate with virgin queens and therefore are essential to the survival of the species, but I never believed this was their sole purpose.
From the beginning, I very carefully observed my bees and one very profound thing I noticed was that honeybees don’t swarm without drones. This got me to thinking about the drones expanded role in the colony and beyond.
For years I pondered this – what do they really do and what is their true purpose
Drones sing a unique song, a kind of chanting, like calling out a cadence. I believe they sing the song that regulates the activity of the hive. They also hold the wisdom of the species. Drones don’t have a very long lifespan so they have to turn this knowledge over to the next generation. They can only hold their small portion of this information and only add so much, like a computer hard drive that’s almost always just about full, so they need to have another generation come along that has another little space to carry on and so forth.
They sing the song of the hive and that song tells the bees what’s going on. Not only does their song tell the stories but it coordinates effort across tens of thousands of community members. How does the colony know what to do and when to do it? When to start, when to stop, and when to do something radical like swarm? Somebody has to know. How is this information transmitted? I believe it’s done auditorily by the drones and biochemically by the queen as she runs around the hive before they swarm.
In every species someone has to be the holder of the wisdom. Take the Monarch Butterfly for example. They migrate thousands of miles every year. How do they know the route? Someone has to hold that information and in the case of the honeybee, I believe it has to be the drone. The workers are too busy, and so is the queen. Drones sit like little Buddhas in the hive most of the day. This is not from laziness but because they hold this sacred information it is hard to do much else.
I understand this may be a radical idea for some. It’s not an idea I’m interested in debating. I’m sure there will be many who discount this post. I hope you decide to at least take a moment to ponder the possibility. After all, there is so much we don’t know about most things – especially honeybees. I believe it’s time to open our eyes, hearts and minds beyond just scientific data. Look where that’s gotten us so far!
I doubt the mysterious life of bees will ever be fully understood, but it’s fun to think about!
How did you get into beekeeping?
Funny story, actually. Our youngest daughter, Kimberly, would come to our house to hang out and have dinner with us at least once a week. I noticed she spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the honeybees that foraged in our front yard. My wife has converted what was once a postage-stamp sized “lawn” (mostly crawl grass and non-flowering weeds) into a herb/vegetable garden. Everything in our garden is either for use by us (medicinal or edible) or by pollinators. Since the conversion, we have seen lots of native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and birds. Anyway, I got interested in watching the bees as well. As I became more fascinated with what these beautiful critters were doing, I started reading more and more about beekeeping and the possibility of keeping a hive or two in our front yard. I started attending meetings of the Sonoma County Beekeepers’ Association a full year before I decided to buy equipment. I also took Randy Sue’s class in beginning beekeeping and bought her dvd Organic Beekeeping 101. Her ideas were very much in line with the way I wanted to house my bees. So, this past Spring I brought two nucs to a local beekeeper and purchased 2 colonies. I also caught my first swarm in May! I currently have two top bar hives and one Langstroth hive.
Why top bars?
One of the books I read while doing research was Phil Chandler’s “Barefoot Beekeeper,” and it just resonated with me. I wanted to “keep” bees in a way that was more “natural” and “sustainable” than what I saw from commercial beekeeping. I have since dropped the term “beekeeper” and call myself a “bee steward.” I also love the term “bee guardian” that was first coined by the Backyard Hive website, www.backyardhive.com. I believe top bar hives are a better way to give the bees a home without meddling in the way they want to be. The bees build their own natural comb, the way THEY want to, not the way we WANT them to. My top bar hives all have observation windows, so you can check on them without disturbing their comings and goings. It’s better for the bees that having to open a Langstroth-style hive, as every time you open the hive, you set the bees back at least two weeks! Because the bars on a top bar hive don’t have space between them, the hive stays at a more constant temperature when you open the hive. And because you only have to remove one bar at a time (when you want to do some hand-on work) the inside temerature doesn’t fluctuate as much. It’s been such a wonderful experience and from it I’ve started my own company, Heritage Beehives, building my own version of a top bar hive, as well as other woodenware for keeping top bar hives. (www.heritagebeehives.com)
What is your favorite beekeeping tip?
Don’t be a “worry-wart” when it comes to beekeeping. What I mean is, let bees do what they do best. Just give them a home and enjoy the benefits! And don’t get into beekeeping just to take and sell honey. Respect these beautiful creatures for what they have done for the past tens of millions of years, and marvel at how they do it!
I was recently asked to explain the similarities and differences of my patented Hex Hive® and Fragile Planets’ Octagonal Hive in the UK and thought I’d share them with you too.
Both are round environments. Both have peaked roofs. Both have stacking supers. Both use foundationless frames or starter strips so the bees can always build their own comb.
The differences are:
The Hex Hive® duplicates the exact shape of the cells in the comb that the bees create – a hexagon.
Every super has it’s own entrance and attached entrance reducer. Separate entrances prevent the bees from being overworked by having to climb super after super to get to the various combs in the hive. And attached entrance reducers mean you never lose them.
The Hex Hive® supers stack on top of each other and can be managed by one beekeeper. Rather than “supering,” or adding empty boxes to the top of the hive, Octagon hives are “nadired,” meaning that empty boxes are added to the bottom. Once a few supers get filled out that hive will get heavy, requiring the help of more than one beekeeper to lift it in order to add a bottom super.
While I understand and agree this is how bees build comb in the wild, it is not practical for the beekeeper to have to lift the whole hive to add a super below. I imagine the moving of the whole hive could also disturb and damage some of the comb.
The Hex Hive® peaked roof also has an attached, ventilated inner cover and a screened bottom box for better ventilation throughout the year.
You can find The Hex Hive® at ThankNature.com