The schedule for the Honey Harvests is pretty flexible–reflecting weather conditions like late frosts, bush-blooming times, and so forth. If, in this crazy weather world, we can predict anything! Usually, Blueberry Honey comes in June, Raspberry in July, Wildflower in August, and Cranberry in September.
Did you know that some bees “winter” in Florida? This New England winter (?) was not unlike Florida this year. Because last winter seemed endless, people bought their snow blowers early and were stuck with them during the “summer” weather that ensued. Back to Florida: bee hives were shipped, as usual, to pollinate crops, but the fact is that most bees can contact diseases when exposed to foreign environments. Our farmers keep them close to home. In a normal, cold winter, the stewards of the hives cover the hives tightly with black tarpaulin that absorbs as much warmth as is possible from the winter sun. Within the hive, the bees bundle into a close ball. The queen basks in serene warmth–about 92 Fahrenheit–while the worker bees at the perimeter of the hive flap their wings wildly to generate additional heat. Not exactly a democracy!
If winter cold is prolonged, a hive can consume up to 100 pounds of honey to fuel the warmth. Strangely enough, unless the honey is placed within inches of the ball of bees, they do not try to find it and starve! Beekeepers have to be sure that the supply of honey is within reach to see the bees through the winter.
When spring arrives, and the tarpaulins are removed, both beekeepers and bees get to work. The beekeeper must decide on the best location for the hive depending on which flower-specific honey is required. If the hives are removed too early, the bees are apt to roam over too large a location collecting nectar from any flowers that are available. That is a no-no since the beekeepers need the subtle infusion of blueberry, raspberry, wildflower, and cranberry nectar. Timing is the answer. The bees adapt amazingly quickly to a new area. In just one hour, “scout” bees will have reported back with precise locations of flowers and water. (More about their method of relaying information soon…)
When the hives are first set out, scouts take off, accompanied by forager bees, to find the best pollen and nectar. When the team has gathered the bounty for the season, it returns to the hive to spread the news. Now work begins in earnest, but not before the scout and the foragers have participated in one of the most fascinating rituals in the insect world. The behavior is called “the dance.” Researchers have identified a number of bee dances and the steps within the dance. One is called “the waggle.”
In order to tell the distance to, and the location of, the food source, a dancing bee will move in a figure-8 pattern, with vigorous wagging at the center of the pattern. The prima donna will repeat the waggling dance again and again, while her audience watches closely. She then makes a narrow half-circle to one side, turns sharply, waggles in an exaggerated manner in a straight line, repeats the dance in the opposite direction, thus completing a full circle. It appears that the straight-line part of the dance, characterized by side-to-side movement of the abdomen, is always the same orientation to the vertical. The dance is performed at a constant angle relative to the up position, which bees sense from gravity. When she points straight up, and waggles, the flowers are at 45 degrees to the right of the sun and vice versa for the left side. A waggle pointing down means the flowers are in the opposite direction of the sun’s location. Having identified the direction of the flowers, the bee then performs a “round dance” from which the spectators can figure out how far the flowers are from the hive. Quick short steps mean the lode may be less than 100 yards away. Thus, by interpreting this ritual, the rest of the worker bees learn the direction and distance of desirable nectar relative to the position of the sun.