Honeybees put us to shame

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

I am so glad I am not a honeybee because I'm pretty sure I would not be a queen and, as a female, would be relegated to a life of industriousness that no human could ever imagine.

After taking a beekeeping class at the Penn State Extension office, where Burgh Bees also hasbees its headquarters, I am more appreciative than ever of the work they do and of the fact that as a human, I am pretty well-balanced on the busyness scale.

You can read more about beekeeping class -- which Burgh Bees holds several times a year -- in Sunday's Post-Gazette.

It's hard not to be anthropomorphic when you watch the film we saw, "Tales From the Hive," a 10-minute documentary that magnifies life in the hive.

The worker bees are small and female and have a rough life, from the moment they crawl out of their cells from pupaehood -- unaided, I might add, while the males get help getting out of their cells.

The drones -- males make up just 10 percen of a hive -- have NO JOB... no job but to fly out and congregate a couple of times a day waiting for a queen. The ones who mate her fall off her in death... too bad; the others return home to watch sports on TV.

The workers work themselves to death at the ripe old age of 45 days, feeding the queen and the males, gathering nectar and water to cool the hive, dehydrating it into honey, cleaning cells of pupae residue, nursing the pupae, guarding the door against intruder bees and carrying out the dead.

Along with the nectar they collect plant resins, which they use to coat such things as mice that crawl in and die so that the mice are not offensive (read: smelly).

And the workers have the ability to pick from amon the larvae the next queen; the old queen leaves with a swarm of half the hive when the hive gets too crowded.

My neighbor, Jana, is up on the roof regularly in the growing season in her bee suit and veil, checking the frames (they look like short window screens that are stacked side by side in each box, or "super'). She keeps her smoker -- a metal pitcher-looking thing that has a bladder beside it to direct the smoke -- perched nearby. The smoke calms the bees.

Since moving in next to her, I have noticed a lot of bees doing work in my garden. They like my pond and were particularly fond of my Thai basil. We think they're the reason I had such an extraordinary harvest of strawberries this year. It is a treat to live beside a beekeeper.

I am grateful for the 160-plus beekeepers stewarding bee hives in and around Pittsburgh, but I am especially grateful that bees were assigned the life of hives and that I have time to read a book.

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