Where Do My Bees Go?

The anticipation before you get your first package of bees is incredible.  You’re pumped about the impending adventure of beekeeping.  You’re pumped about learning about these little creatures that have managed to figure out how to work in a social society that can communicate and make democratic decisions.  Finally the day comes and get your package or nuc and install the bees in their hive.  After that exhilarating, and perhaps terrifying, first day, you close up your hive.

If you’re anything like me, you then pull up a chair a few feet back from the hive and watch the bees as they come and go.  First, they orient themselves to the new hive by flying in and out, making spirals and figure-eights in front of the hive as they learn the landmarks that help them navigate home.  Then, as if they know exactly where they’re going, they launch themselves off of the bottom board with purpose and head straight for the sky.  Soon they’ll return carrying giant yellow pollen pellets on their back legs. As you watch them come and go, it’s hard not to wonder: where are my bees going?

So, like any child of the digital age, you head straight for the internet.  You find forums on bees, and blogs like this one.  You find out that bees will travel miles to nectar sources, and you come across calendars indicating what blooms at certain times of year.  Maybe you walk around your garden or lawn and find a honey bee or two on a dandelion or a on your agastache.  But this still doesn’t answer that burning question. Where are they going?

One day I was jogging in a nearby neighborhood.  As I came around a corner I noticed some commotion on a bush that I was passing by.  I’d been by this same thicket several times,  but never while it was in  bloom. Anyhow, upon closer inspection, the flowers were dripping with honey bees.  I turned my headphones off and took them out of my ears and I was struck by the volume of the hum coming from the bushes.  It was incredible. I had found my bees!

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Truth be told, there’s no way of knowing whether or not those bees belong to me.  I don’t know of any beekeepers in my immediate vicinity, but honey bees travel a long distance for good nectar, so who knows?  But, I like to think they were my bees, travelling but a half-mile to feast on the spoils of mother nature.  Don’t burst my bubble.

I looked up the plant and apparently this is sumac, which was news to me.  My knowledge of the local flora is growing day-by-day.  That’s the thing about beekeeping, it’s not just about bees.  You have to know what blooms, when it blooms, and how it’s all affected by the weather.  Beekeeping really is agriculture.  So I don’t necessarily expect my bees to return to this spot at the same time next year.  Some more-bountiful nectar source may be available during the sumac bloom.  But who knows? Maybe I’ll find them somewhere else.  Until then, I’ll just have to wonder where my bees are going.  Gangsta, out!

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