Lessons from Honeybees

Lessons from Honeybees

Guest writer Alex Weaver continues with his theme of lessons to be learned with this week’s blog, “Lessons from Honeybees.”

My most recent blog “Three Lessons from Dad,” I listed some of Dad’s interests and work. Beekeeping was on the list.

For my dad, bees and beekeeping were a labor of love, respect, and business. My Dad, his dad and a brother kept and tended several “apiaries,” or groups of hives. Maximizing production by moving them from SW Missouri to Iowa in the summer for Alfalfa pollination. Alfalfa produces great tasting honey. They produced and sold honey all year. There is a seasonal focus on beekeeping depending on what plant is blooming. A bee yard was fifty to several hundred hives. Not in one location but scattered across several locations, usually farms in southwest Missouri or southern Iowa. My Dad became a bit of a “Bee Whisperer” and often discussed his observations that became life lessons. He was very observant as he worked with the bees. 

Honeybees are essential in our lives. Honeybees are big money makers for U.S. agriculture. These social and hardworking insects produce six hive products – honey, pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, and venom – all collected and used by people for various nutritional and m medicinal purposes. Honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, including more than 130 types of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Honeybees also produce honey, worth about $3.2 million in 2017 according to USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Why is learning from Honeybees important? Because they have been successful for a long time.

“Bees lived during the time of the dinosaurs. During the Mesozoic era on earth, the earliest dinosaurs appeared about 245 million years ago and disappeared after an asteroid hit earth around sixty-five million years ago. The oldest fossil bees are from circa one hundred million years ago, found in Myanmar.” – Mann Lake LTD

So, what can we learn from Honeybees that apply in our workplace and our homes?

My comments here echo information available in many books today about honeybees. Scientists have studied and continue to study these hardworking and extremely focused insects. But I also include some of my dad’s comments. 

Teamwork –

“Honeybees are nature’s ultimate team-players. They cooperate in everything they do. They also behave as if it were an individual matter, while at the same time keeping the common good of the hive as their priority. If one bee is suffering or falling behind, the others step up and do the work, making sure that collective productivity is never reduced.” – 

Using teamwork, they produce honey. It is the only food that includes everything that is necessary to sustain life – water, minerals, enzymes, and vitamins. Honey also contains pinocembrin, an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning. 

Without teamwork, the honeybee ecosystem could not achieve its goals.

Roles and Responsibilities – 

Every member of the hive population has a job to do. The queen is dedicated to reproducing, repopulating the population. The queen can lay as many as 2,000 eggs per day. Drones give up their lives to mate with the queens and contribute to succession. Worker bees can serve multiple roles. Scout bees are on the lookout for the next area to harvest pollen. They escort forager bees and soon a “pipeline” is formed. Forager bees haul pollen to the hive and return “empty” for the next load. Guard bees provide security.

Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities drive increased production and success.

Efficient – 

“Honeybees don’t multitask. Instead, they focus only on the top priority. They each have different jobs and they stick to them. This is how they are efficient, wasting no time on anything other than living their purpose and contributing where they are most capable.”

You have heard the expression, “Busy as a Bee – because they work hard every day. “It takes three hundred bees visiting two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Rest is part of being efficient. Honeybees spend two-thirds of their time resting. Bees need five to eight hours rest. Or they become inefficient.” – Paul Rigby

Work hard, but rest is important.

Process – 

Honeybees can be fun to observe. My Dad taught me this. Air Traffic Control. If you observe closely, there is no traffic jam around the entrance to the beehive. Bees that are inbound with pollen approach the hive at about 45 degrees, on the left side of the entrance, and once they have deposited their load, they depart, at about 45 degrees on the right side of the hive entrance, as you face the hive. Other bees flying around or near the hive can be on “orientation” flights, which is how recently hatched bees learn   which hive is their home and how to fly in and out.

Process defines productivity.

Communication – 

Scout bees find forage and flowers to harvest. A scout bee can waggle its body to send out the scent of the flower and this permeates the hive. The foragers know what flower to harvest.

Constant, clear communication improves productivity.

Security – 

Ten to Twenty guard bees remain airborne, near the entrance to the hive watching for predators. Bears, skunks, hive beetles, raccoons, and opossums seek Honeybee hives to raid for the honey and the bees. The bees defend their hive by stinging the predator in groups. The larger the predator, the more bees join in to sting and thwart the invader. Honeybees understand they face threats and are prepared to defend their hive, their factory and home. 

Lately Honeybees have come under attack by a “disease” called Colony Collapse Disorder. Much research is being done to identify the cause and protect the bees.

Without vigilant security, the Hive (Enterprise) won’t survive.

Interesting Next Step – 

As mentioned above, the Honeybee population is declining. One industry pundit has suggested that the decline could be slowed if there were more “Hobby” beekeepers. Maybe, many households could each set up and manage two honeybee hives. It is more work than a cat or dog, but extremely rewarding. The first time you remove a full frame of honey from a hive, cut the honey from the frame, and put it in a bowl, your kitchen is changed forever. Honey and honeycomb, fresh from your hive, is wonderful. Honey can be used to flavor recipes, spread on baked goods, base for sauces, including baked Salmon. 

Beehives are a good teaching venue for teenagers and family members. Several years ago, my younger sister and young adult daughter kept two hives in their backyard. Also, I helped my neighbors set up two hives. The hives flourished and they grew to five hives and produced enough honey for their own consumption, and some left to sell. In both instances the hives resided in suburban backyards.

In many communities there is a Beekeeper’s Club. Such clubs offer help to newcomers wanting to get started. There are hundreds of books available in print and online. I will list a few below.

The time is now. Why not give two beehives a chance? You and your family can be successful and help our honeybee population grow. And enjoy your fresh “Honey from the Hive.”

Books for your consideration:

“The Five Habits of Highly Effective Bees” – Thomas R. Seeley

“The Wisdom of Bees” – Michael O’Malley, PHD

What The Hive can teach business about leadership, efficiency, and growth

“Honeybee Democracy” – Thomas R. Seeley

“A Book of Bees” – Sue Hubbell

“Honeybee:  Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper” – C. Marina Marchese

Books currently in my library:

“The Beekeeper’s Handbook – Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile

“The Backyard Beekeeper” – Kim Flottum

“Keeping Bees and Making Honey” – Alison Benjamin and Bran McCallum

“Natural Beekeeping” – Ross Conrad

Honeybees have been around for one hundred million years – as quoted above. They have a proven successful operating model. We can learn a lot from these little insects.

Credit where credit is due:  There is text in the above document highlighted by parenthesis. If I knew the author, their name follows the text. Some I did not have, so understand, these are not my words, and I don’t take credit, but agree with the message.

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