Waxing Poetic

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Some of you know that, besides humans at my house, I’ve got dogs, chickens, fish, and honeybees (you can even see my live BeeCam here). Only about ten days ago, I added another hive to my backyard. The inside of a hive (one that humans manage, anyway) is a neat, tidy affair, made up of tightly-packed frames that are spaced apart by identical, precise amounts.

When I was “installing” the bees into the hive, I was very surprised to discover I was short one frame. In other words, there was a big gap in the hive where the frame should have been.

I had a few extra wooden frames, but I didn’t have the sheet that fits within it, which is where the bees build out their honeycomb. I thought to myself, “well, bees have built combs without frames for millions of years, so maybe I should just leave the space and let them create one.”

Well, yes, I could do that, but after reading up on the subject, I learned it wasn’t a great idea. If you leave the open space, the bees will certain construct their own “wild” comb, but the tidy order of the hive will get disrupted, and they’ll basically built a honeycomb in the big empty space, filling up the entire area. It would be OK, but it just isn’t kosher (according to my research). So I went ahead and just ordered some of the extra “sheets” that fit within the frame. They would take about a week to arrive.

I figured in a week’s time, the bees would occupy themselves with the 7 other frames in the hive, and the empty space would just remain a big empty space. Once the sheet arrived, I’d assemble it inside the frame, remove the roof of the hive, brush the bees away, and gently insert the new frame. Easy. No problem.

So, today, the sheets arrived, and I dutifully took one of them and carefully assembled the new frame. I donned my always-sexy beekeeper’s jacket, hood, and gloves, and I went out to the new hive, reviewing in my mind how I would gently put the new frame in, disturbing the bees as little as I could. I set the new frame down, opened the roof, and……..

Holy Lord! Within that empty space was, from the top to the bottom, a completely-constructed (and absolutely geometrically perfect) honeycomb, and it was already about 10% full of honey! Good GOD these creatures work fast! I seriously could hardly believe my eyes, not only because they had worked with such speed (remember, this was in just a week’s time) but that the thing they made was so absolutely and naturally beautiful. It was a true work of art.

I feel pretty damned guilty, I’ve got to tell you, pull this thing out. The bees, it probably need not be said, were pissed beyond belief at this giant alien that was yanking all their hard work out. The honeycomb looked kind of like the picture below, except without the ape-man biting into it:

I carried the comb about fifteen feet away from the hive, and I gently brushed away all the bees on it. I then took the entire thing inside with me, not quite knowing what to do.

Once I got inside, I felt like a thief. So I broke off the portion of the comb that had honey, and I put it into a bowl, walked back outside, and made an offering to the bees (“Yeah, thanks, Tim, for wrecking a week’s worth of effort. You’re a pal.“) I’m hoping that, at a minimum, they can take the nectar and honey back inside, saving them the trouble of foraging for it again. I’m not sure if they’ll do anything with the wax, but I doubt it. (It looks small, because about 90% of the honeycomb was just empty wax; I only brought back the portion with honey).

As for the big empty wax comb that I had left over, I was struck by how lightweight it was – – it felt like something NASA would have had created. But I decided to melt it in a pot, and, hey, why not, make a couple of cute honey bears out of it! Here they are (the darkness at the top of the right one is from impurities in the wax):

So – – nothing to do with trading. Nothing to do with business. Nothing to do with Silicon Valley. Just me and some bees on a lazy weekend afternoon. Bees are truly a miracle. The more I learn about them, the more I am in awe.

Life was no accident.