The Bee People: Chapters 13 & 14

Chapter 13: The Work in the Hive – the manufacture of wax

Since honey-bees eat almost nothing but pollen and honey, a good store of these has to be laid up for winter use, as well as to feed all the young bees and the drones […] if I tell you there is something very wonderful about Miss Apis that you have not yet heard, you will not be surprised. Probably by this time you would be more surprised if you failed to hear something wonderful […]

She has pockets! You do not think pockets are so very so wonderful? Well, neither do I, just ordinary common place, every-day pockets for carrying pencils and such things; but what about wax pockets? Not pockets made of wax, but pockets filled with wax […]

If you think Miss Apis gathers the wax somewhere and puts it into these pockets, you are as much mistaken as if you thought two and two were nine. She does not gather it; she makes it […] When you undertake to store up honey, you must have something to put it in. You cannot put it on the floor or in a corner […] you must have bottles, or cans, or jars or something of that kind to put it in. If you are a bee you cannot go to the store and buy these thigns; you have to make them […] so you gorge yourself with honey …] then go hang yourself up in the top of the hive and wait. This is what the bees at the head of this chapter are doing […] This time you understand the honey has actually been eaten, not stored away to be drawn back into the mouth again and deposited in the hive. It has been eaten, and bee now keeps still while this heavy meal digests.

You and I, who have studied Physiology a little, know that when people are able to digest much sugar they become fat. The sugar is someway turned to fat […] When Miss Apis wants wax, then, she eats a hearty meal of honey and suspends herself in the hive for a nap while it digests. When she wakes up, her eight pockets are full of wax. It was Huber who first told us that wax is made from honey eaten by the bees.

Chapter 14: Honey-Comb

Wax makes first-rate jars for storing honey. It is tight and firm and prevents air and water from getting in. […] You may be sure Miss Apis knows all this. She is not surprised to find her pockets full of wax and she knows just want to do with it […] First, in company with a number of her sisters, she sticks a little wax along one side of the hive near the top, then the six-sided cups or cells are begun. This sounds easy enough, but suppose you try to make a six-sided cell of moist bees’ wax and see how you succeed […] The bees begin at the roof and build the comb downward. It is wonderful to think of the fairy structure growing there in the dark hive under the efforts of the industrious little bees […] The cells are not quite parallel with the floor of the hive, but their mouths are tipped up just a little, as they are slightly curved, as if Miss Apis were afraid the honey might run out if she laid them down too flat […] The cells are small and the liquid honey tends to remain in a small cell, just on that account […] Then, when Miss Apis has her cell nearly full, she begins to put a cover over it […] this cap, as it is called […] Miss Apis fills her honey cell rather slowly and leaves it uncapped for a few days until the extra water evaporates and the honey is ‘ripened’ […]

Key Points

  • On average a honey bee will make only about one teaspoon of honey in her LIFETIME
  • Bees evaporate the nectar until is only 18% water and then cap it (that’s how you know its ready)
  • I love dresses with pockets, wax or otherwise.
  • Bees will build comb plumb, so keep you hive level – but if its crooked, help them (and yourself) but fixing (see epic mess, glass half empty)
  • Talented artists are harnessing bees to make some pretty outstanding sculptures (glass half full)

I share with you words and illustrations from the public domain M. Morely book – The Bee People. Published 1899; designed for third to fifth grade readers with goal to learn “how to observe” but plenty for adults to learn as well. Life lesson, bee truths and a gauge to see if we have made progress over the last century. If you find something interesting take 5 minutes and do some extra research. Bees are amazing creatures!

Excerpts –

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