Cosy, snug, dry that’s how I imagine my bees these days as they cluster safe and warm in their hives conserving energy and resources as the temperatures hover below 0oC. As a beekeeper I much prefer this cold weather. I worried more during the recent long, mild, wet spell that settled on us during Autumn.
When the weather is mild in Winter, bees will go out to forage when there is little or more likely nothing to bring back to the hive and it is costly for the bee and the hive as they need to consume the food that should tide them over the winter months. The dampness is not good for bees either.
I checked the hives in the gap between all that recent rain and the cold snap. I was reassured to see that the bees were alive and were clustering nicely. Some hives seemed a bit light, so I gave them some fondant (they are not able to draw down syrup during winter) and I added some extra insulation under their roof, just in case.
I’ve being feeling a bit guilty lately because I’ve been burning beeswax candles. The amount of work that goes into making one beeswax candle is phenomenal. I do the easy bit, rendering beeswax and pouring candles into silicone moulds. The bees are the heroes. There must be thousands and thousands of scales of wax in one small candle. Bees produce wafer thin minute flakes of wax from their eight wax gland in their abdomen. Each wax scale is about 3 mm across and 0.1 mm thick and about 1100 scales are needed to produce 1 gram of wax. (I wonder who took the trouble of counting). How do bees make beeswax.
Bees consume honey (6-8 pounds of honey are consumed to produce a pound (345g) of wax) causing the special wax-producing glands to covert the sugar into wax which is extruded through small pores. The wax appears as small flakes on the bees’ abdomen.
It is estimated that bees need to visit an incredible 30 million flowers to produce a pound (454g) of beeswax. So for a 60g candle such as the beehive skep shaped candle in the photo, honey bees would need to visit about 5,084,745 flowers. Head wrecking! I appreciate the beauty and glow of beeswax candles but wonder do I appreciated them enough!
It’s amazing what a meitheal * can do! I saw a group of 20 council workers transform a weedy roundabout into a magnificent display of flowers in the space of 4 hours one day – I wished that they would come and transform my tatty garden. Can you imagine what a group of 50,000 could achieve? It’s with that level of cooperation a beehive operates.
LINK: More about beeswax
* Meitheal is an old Irish term that describes how neighbours would come together to assist in the saving of crops or in other tasks. I’m sure there is something like that in every culture.