The recent focus on honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has caused more Americans to learn about – and appreciate – the hard-working honeybee.
As a beekeeper, I know that honeybees are social creatures with their lives centered on their home. Each time I stand at the entrance of one of my hives, or open the top to peer inside, I come away with a few tidbits of information. Here are a few tips on home remodeling from one of the best architects in nature:
- Expect to sweat.
Nothing substitutes for good old elbow grease. Honeybee workers secrete or “sweat” a thick fluid that is chewed and formed into light yellow wax. The honeybee pulls and packs the wax into perfect, six-sided cells that will hold eggs, brood and food for the entire colony.
Count your blessings – your sweat builds equity, and you only have to wipe it from your brow.
- Have a plan
That honeycomb? The colony doesn’t make it up as they go along. The honeycomb blueprint has been around since time began, and it still works the best. There is no wasted space in a honeybee hive – each cell is created from the last one and the walls never vary in thickness. No self-respecting honeybee would dare to change it.
If something works, don’t Be-Dazzle it.
- Sometimes you just have to make do.
When times are tough and nectar is hard to come by, honeybees will happily swig Gatorade from a can, lick a Popsicle, drink pool water and roll in cattle feed for the bits of protein dust they can substitute for pollen. Anything to feed the crew.
When times are tough, you may have to settle for quality laminate instead of hardwood to stay within your budget.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There is a social structure within the hive. Honeybees dive in to make living bridges from one space to another, to clean cells or feed larvae or wipe the Queen’s face. There is no guilt – only a collective need to get the job done.
Sometimes a girl just needs to shout out to a sister.
- Prepare for winter.
Honeybees send out groups of workers to insulate the hive as it gets closer to winter. Every crack or knothole in the pine wood of the hive boxes is plugged with a sticky brown substance called propolis. This keeps the winter hive warm and snug for the colony, brood and queen. But there is also strategically placed ventilation to keep the air moving.
Find those heat-sucking leaks and repair or weatherstrip before the winds howl, but let your house breathe the way it should.
- Protect your turf
Honeybees are docile and easy-going – until something tries to invade their space. Then the militia is called in and lines are drawn. Guards are posted at the entrance, the queen buries herself in the middle of the hive and is protected by hundreds of nurse and guard bees, workers rush to drink their fill of honey in case an escape is in order. And safety is in numbers – thousands of the little girls can ward off a hungry black bear.
Lock up when you leave – and beware of bears in bee’s clothing.
- Look for the sweetest flowers.
The nectar doesn’t come to the hive. The honeybee uses her uncanny ability to discern flower nectars and heads for the ones that will give her quality and quantity. Time is honey, and the straightest and sweetest path is the best one.
Develop a skill for finding quality materials and craftsmen who offer the best return for the money.
- When it’s hot, sit on the porch.
Ah, you thought a bee never rests? Not so – when the summer sun heats up the hive, a large group of workers move out to the porch and fan their wings to create a breeze inside, keeping brood and honey at the proper temperature. The girls take breaks from their fanning and hang out in clusters called “beards,” cooling themselves and storing energy for later flights.
Remember to re-hydrate and take a break from work to appreciate what you’ve already accomplished.
And the most important lesson I learned from my honeybees is this:
- Sing while you work. And hum if you don’t know the words.