While working on the If Animals Disappeared series, I travel the world in the books, but not so much in real life. It simply just isn’t possible for me to have done everything Simone has done in the books while also writing the books. Therefore, whenever I get opportunities to experience the world I’m researching and writing about, I jump! If Bees Disappeared was luckily a little bit easier because honeybees are all over the world… including right near my own backyard. Thanks to my amazing friend Anna Lee who is amongst many things a beekeeper, I got to be a beekeeper for a day!
Anna observes her top-bar beehives well and noticed there were queen cells forming in the brood cone within her beehive. The hive was getting full full and the bees were preparing to make a new queen and swarm. While swarming happens, Anna knew the bees preparing for a new queen meant it was time to split the hive! The risk of not splitting a hive is that the bees will swarm, leaving the hive and trying to find a bigger place to live. If you see a swarm of honeybees outside of their hive, call your local beekeeping organization to have a beekeeper come help the bees.
Anna and I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado which can be a harsh landscape for both humans and such fragile insects like bees. Keeping an eye on them and planning for a warm day to take care of them takes a lot of time and dedication.
So when Anna realized she had to split the hive, she needed an extra set of hands and I was eager to help! We planned it for a warm spring day as soon as possible and luckily, the tempuratures warmed up for us a little. We donned our largest pale colored clothing, beekeeping gloves and hats and got to work. Anna is a rebel and doesn’t use the full beekeeping suit so I followed her lead and didn’t myself, but I recommend wearing the full suit if you have one!
I did little to help in all honesty besides puff the smoker and learn from Anna as she talked through what we were doing and what we were seeing. For me, it was mostly a hands on learning experience for If Bees Disappeared. Anna set up the second hive next to the first hive and then using the smoker to help calm the bees, together we opened up the first hive. I was surprised that the bees were mostly curious about us and came out to look, cleaning up any uncapped honey we dripped on the hive as we took out the bars to find the queen.
Our mission: find the Queen Bee and move her to the second hive.
Because Anna had found queen cells forming in the first hive, the first hive was getting ready to have a new queen and the old queen needed to be moved to the new hive. When you move the old queen to the new hive, about half of the bees will follow her, leaving the other half to stay behind with the forming queen. This will effectively make two beehives from one allowing each to have a healthier population and more space to grow in their hives.
Rather quickly, Anna found the queen and moved her over to the new hive while I stayed with the smoker, calming the bees as they realized the queen was being moved. As she set up the old queen in her new hive, bees started flying over there to figure out what was going on. The split was in the process of happening. Bees are one of the few creatures on earth that act as a hive (beehive), and use hivemind to respond to the world around them. Essentially, they don’t act for themselves – they act as a giant unit! Every bee thinks of the other bees and caring for the other bees in their decison making, which I think is pretty cool.
When the hive had been split, we tidied things up, closing the top-bar hives and letting the bees do their thing (they knew what they were doing). Anna brought out some honeycomb she’d had from a previous day of honey collection and we snacked on the honeycomb as we finished tidying up her beekeeping equipment. It was such a fun and exciting day! I hope to have beehives of my own one day, but in the many things I’ve learned from Anna, beekeeping is hard work and takes a lot of time and dedication.
If you want to learn more about how important bees are to our world, check out If Bees Disapepared!