Did you know that about 70 % of what we eat is pollinated by bees?
Wondering how? Bees transport the pollen they collect from one flower onto other flowers and enable pollination to take place. Did you know that it takes over 22,700 flights of bees to fill a single jar of honey?
Did you know that a single Queen can produce between 100,000 to 200,000 worker bees in the hive in a year? You may have heard of reduced numbers of bees in the world, even the term Colony Collapse.
And this is where I take you on a Bee Journey with Darryl and Wendy Ryan and invite you to buzz along.
Darryl and his family have always been interested in bees and none more so then when chance allowed him to meet the inventors and owners of the Flow Hive near Byron Bay. They were welcoming and informative and this meeting has led to a life long friendship and collaboration, which Darryl will happily share with you. Wendy will offer you morning tea with delightful goodies made with honey, which are just delicious. After a good cuppa and some history, it is time to see the hives.
They have approximately 35 which means that this is no longer a weekend hobby but almost a full-time job – well almost. Unlike dogs and cats, bees can be left alone and generally speaking they behave well and work hard and you can come home and not find any chewed up carpets or wee by the window. Their hard work is nothing short of amazing. That in itself is rewarding, but helping increase the number of bees in the world is perhaps even more pressing.
Darryl will take apart a beehive layer by layer to explain how it all works. He will show you the brood box, the very first box in which the first swarm of bees with a Queen will take residence. Each brood box has one Queen. She is slightly larger than the workers and drones. Because of her size, she cannot go up into the honey making part of the Hive. Her role is to fly out and mate with some drones, the male bees, and then return to the hive, full of their sperm, which is then used to fertilise each egg, laid in a honeycomb compartment of the brood box. The baby bees are fed with honey and then finally hatch in the hive and if you are very lucky you might witness such a birth. Only the larvae, which are chosen to become Queens, are fed with Royal Jelly. This is a white secretion produced by young female worker bees.
When the hive is well established the worker bees will start making the honeycomb and depositing honey in them. How this is done is that worker bees fly out and suck up nectar in their honey tummy for want of a better word. There, some enzymes chemically change it. They return to the hive and regurgitate their stomach contents into another bee's mouth and after more processing of this nectar, it is placed in the honeycombs and becomes what we recognise as honey. The taste and colour can vary considerably based on the flowering plants that the worker bees can feed on and also the amount of water in the honey. They love lavender and buddleias and so it is good to plant what they love in the garden. In Australia, there are mainly two types of bees, the native stingless bees and the European honey bees. The former has the advantage of being stingless but produce less honey, the latter are great honey producers.
They are incredibly industrious – no slackers in the Bee world. They are ingenious too. They have a waggle dance and by the number of waggles, they can tell the other worker bees where a particular source of nectar can be found. They are highly organised and each bee knows exactly what it is doing. They work tirelessly and for the common good of the Beehive. What a lesson for our own humanity.
It was fascinating to open up the Hives and look inside. Darryl showed the group how to find a Queen Bee, capture it and mark it, as it is important to make sure there is always one which continues to lay eggs in the brood hive.
We also witnessed the formation of the wax honeycombs, the frames, which were full of eggs, and those that were full of honey.
We watched as Darryl harvested some full frames and proceeded to scrape off the protective wax top layer to release the honey inside. The frames are then put into a centrifugal drum, which is spun to release the honey, which flows out from the bottom.
With Flow Hives, the frames are already formed in a hexagonal pattern. When a key is placed into the frame there is a shifting of the hexagonal walls, which means that the hexagonal honeycomb is broken to release the honey, which can literally come out of a tap. The key is then turned back, the hexagonal shape is restored and the bees can carry on with their honeycomb and honey production. Darryl will show you both, with all the complexities and fascinating facts that go with beekeeping.