Honeybees are amazing! Not only do they make honey and beeswax, but they are also utterly captivating little creatures and wonderful to work with. There is something special about the way they smell, the heat and gentle buzz when you open up a hive, the sweetness of their honey and the delicacy and intricacy of their honeycomb. Imagine the wonder of witnessing a new queen bee emerging from her cell for the first time, or watching worker bees returning to the colony after a foraging flight, carrying up to half their body weight in pollen or nectar. It’s quite awesome what these small creatures can achieve when they work together!
Honeybees live in colonies within hives, or in trees or other cavities in the wild. In every colony there are thousands or tens of thousands of worker bees, all female, and one queen bee. The hive also contains drones, which are the male bees. There can be as few as a handful of drones in the winter, to as many as several hundred during the spring and summer. All the bees in one colony are the daughters and sons of the queen, and it is only the female worker bees who collect nectar and pollen, build wax and care for the young. The drones don’t work: their sole aim is to mate with a virgin queen from another colony, after which they die.
The reason honeybees make honey whereas other similar insects like wasps and bumblebees do not, is because honeybee colonies overwinter. Wasp and bumblebee colonies have a different lifecycle, where only the queens overwinter, and build up new colonies every spring. The nectar gathered by honeybees, turned into honey, ensures the colony has enough food to last them for the winter, when there is a shortage of flowers to provide pollen and nectar and it may be too wet or cold for them to fly.
At Hanna’s Bees, we take great care to harvest only the excess honey and leave plenty for the bees to survive on over the winter. Feeding of bees is sometimes necessary to ensure that colonies survive in times of poor forage and other stresses. We never feed colonies that are producing honey, and no sugar is added to our honeys.
Hanna’s Bees has about 50 colonies of honeybees in six different apiaries, or bee yards, in East and South Cork. Our apiaries are situated in both suburban and rural settings, each with different flora available for the bees to forage on, which makes every batch of honey unique.
Are you interested in beekeeping and want to learn more? Visit My Blog for more beekeeping stories and follow the work in my apiaries. Also check out your local beekeeping association for more information on courses, educational material, and meetings.
The Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations – www.irishbeekeeping.ie
Native Irish Honey Bee Society – www.nihbs.org
Irish Beekeepers Association – www.irishbeekeepersassociation.com