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Honeybees in the Garden

Become a beekeeper and watch your bee-friendly garden flourish.

| March/April 2013

  • a honeybee visits a purple dahlia
    Two bees visit this pink dahlia flower.
    Photo By iStockphoto/kevinruss

  • a honeybee visits a purple dahlia

When it comes to your garden, you’ve always had a good Plan A; and a halfway decent Plan B. But without Plan Bee, you might as well throw away the seeds and burst any thought bubbles that include hauling a huge basketful of fruits and vegetables out of the garden come summertime.

You really have to wonder what a dinosaur thought, some 130 million years ago, when confronted by a honeybee.

Maybe he was glad he had a thick hide because, really, what kind of threat is a stinger on dino-hide? He might’ve batted the bug away, but he should’ve been more careful. Much like some mammals developed hooves and horns, bees evolved with bodies to help them do what bees do better than most any other creature on the planet: pollinate plants. Dinosaurs eventually went extinct, but it didn’t take long for the proficient pollinators to migrate all over Africa and the Eurasian landmass.

You can almost imagine how humans stumbled upon the other thing bees do: Chances are, they saw some rascally animal raid the hive and figured that sticky stuff had to be pretty tasty. Rock art in Africa and Spain shows that early humans knew how to hunt honey, Ice Age humans knew that smoke calmed bees, and Egyptians learned to keep bees in central locations. Many moons later, bees were brought to North America by beekeepers looking to relocate both home and hive.

Much like a miniature castle of old, each beehive centers on a queen. Despite the fact that most of the 50,000 to 200,000 bees in the hive are female, she is the only one allowed to lay eggs. The queen is pampered and fed and required to do no worker-bee drudgery. She doesn’t even have to take care of any squalling brat-bees. In fact, when there become too many mouths to feed, she swarms and flies off with some of her retinue — but not before allowing at least one of her eggs to become a new queen with a new colony. That new queen will ruthlessly kill all other newborn queens in the hive until she, alone, is left to rule. Unlike her subjects, the queen bee can use her stinger over and over without being killed by its use.

Indeed, it’s good to be queen

When it’s time for a queen bee to mate, she leaves the hive — one of the few times in her life that she does so — with the drones, or male bees, in hot pursuit of her Highness. She mates over and over in midair, and then flies back to the colony able to lay fertile eggs throughout her lifetime. The male bees, having lived a mere week and having done their only duty in life, then die, which proves that it’s a drone to be a drone.

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