Why would someone keep thousands of bees in the city? That was my first thought when i saw a tv documentary about urban beeing. Sitting on my roof terrace means turning down the city noises while still enjoying the view on its crowd. There is no way that i would disturb this urban peace by keeping a bee colony on my roof, constantly bumbling and buzzing around. And writing on my roof deck while getting pierced all the time? No thanks.
Sitting right in front of them. Thousands of tiny humming creatures buzzing and bumbling around. On my roof deck. And i am writing. About them.
It all started with idealism. That is the attitude of someone that believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty. In this case: Me - and thousands of fussy bees trying to move into a wooden box, taking along the queen and the pollen.
It may surprise all the people out there who are being bothered by yellowjackets every time they are having a picnic or eating a piece of cake. But Bees are different to their sugar addicted evil twins. They are peace loving beings. And they have no need to prey upon our cake. Quite the reverse – we dependently need theirs.
Third to cattle and pigs bees are the most important working animal in this world. It is not only the honey. If bees would claim a salary for pollinating the valuable crop worldwide, humanity would run into debt. If they would stop working at once it would charge over 200 billion dollars. We owe the bees about 90 percent of the world's nutrition.
Why is this important to know? Bees are critically endangered. They are dying from pesticides, drought, nutrition deficit or air pollution. Conditions that are made by us. And still they are living according to very high standards of behavior and honesty: go to work in the early morning, humming and buzzing around, pollinate the crop, manufacture honey and wax and create mesmerizing architecture out of it. Nevertheless they are no workaholics. Many times they just sit and relax or take a walk through the beehive. There are neither bad bosses nor jealous coworkers. Everyone sticks together, helpful and solidary.
Please note: This is not an article that tries to heal the world. This is just a story that keeps a close eye on a world at peace that is overlooked by many people: the world of bees. In this case: a humming colony living in a box on a rooftop of a city.
What do these bees do on my roof deck? First I would like to start with what they do not do: They do not buzz around me all the time, although once a bee sat quietly on my notebook watching the white paper on the screen (same what I do a lot). They do not chase any pies, chocolates or drinks, because they produce their own candy. And they do not buzz as loud as any airplane in the city sky. What I do not do: I do not wear a huge hat with a net and a white costume as if I am about to travel to mars. I just live along with them, sitting close next to them. Even if one bee sits on my hand, it most alike will not sting. If it does, it will lose its life. If I do not endanger its beehive-mates or the queen it would not make any sense to commit suicide by stinging boring me.
But how come these bees managed to get on my roof deck? Thinking about weirdoes, bees and my way of living I figured out that this is the perfect way to do charity while just sitting around and do nothing. The bees are autonomous folks that care for themselves. In the city they find all kinds of non-toxic plants on each and every balcony. They let my roof deck flourish. And the best thing about it: I yearly get 15 kilos organic honey in return.
Who is not familiar with this: Driving in the car, sitting next to your partner, watching the traffic lights, people, cars and bicycles while holding a box with 7000 whirring bees in it. This is the way you bring a beehive to your home. Someone sees a swarm in a tree in the park. That someone calls the fire hose, the fire hose call the beekeepers. One beekeeper climbs up the tree with an open box, pulls the branch with the bees slowly in it, shoves them with a jerk and closes the lid. The bees find themselves in a box with a net on one side so that they can breathe. First they check up on the queen and then start building their wax interior all over again. People who like to get a bee colony register online at a bee stock exchange, the beekeeper calls one of them and they pick them up. That is how you end up in the car with a beehive on your lap.
Since I got a fuzzy state on my roof my friends keep asking me lots of questions. Did they sting you already? Is the queen the only female? What do they eat? How do they decide who is a worker, a guardian or the queen? Awkwardly I did not know it either. So I did what every human being does when one does not know the answer to something in his life, I started to google it. The million results turned out to be absorbing – but let's start from the very beginning: There is a flower with nectar and pollen. A bee likes to drink the nectar, while doing so, it is showered with pollen. These stick to its hairy dress. Some of those trickle into the next flower and pollinate it. What about the rest? The bee brushes the pollen with its middle and forelegs, mixes it with spittle and honey, cakes it and puts it in a basket on its hind legs. With these pollen panties it returns to the beehive and refills the nectar into the combs. Mixed with spittle the nectar is converted it into honey. The pollen cake, the favorite dish of the drones and working bees, is kept separately in storage combs.
There are three kinds of bees: The female working bee, the male drone and their majesty. The queen stays inside the beehive, eats and gives birth to baby bees, up to 1.500 eggs a day. The male drones mainly stay inside and are responsible for heating and harmony. Female working bees can change their careers throughout their lifetime: cells cleaning, baby-sitting, comb constructing, pollen picking or guarding the beehive. What kind of job one bee does depends on her stage of life and the colonies conditions and needs.
Now what happens if you pour all of them out of a box and let them flop in front of a new home on a rooftop? Any other species of this world would attack. But bees are a home crowd. They just need a few seconds to orientate, then spotting a suitable house and collectively wander to the entrance, some of them patiently standing in line for hours.
It felt like a gigantic open air festival. Being under a spell we were watching them forgetting that we do not wear any beekeepers costumes. But the bees did not bother anyway. Who needs to fight when you just won an urban villa?
After two hours watching them patiently standing in line, we decided to go out for dinner. Back home we checked up on them with a torch. Almost all of them have found a place inside. Only round about hundred were left outisde, exhausted asleep. But the light of the torch woke them up. Within another hour the sleepy bees continued entering the hive.
A few rainy days. The bees have to stay home, when it is showery outside. Rain drops make it difficult to fly. A few fuzzy heroes still have the courage to do so, but it is not enough to put up a whole new dormitory for round about 7.000 bees. How do they build their waxed home anyway? That was one of thousands sudden questionmarks that came into my mind, when I looked at that hive being bravely under construction. A few minutes of online search later I was stunned. Imagine you want to build your house and all you got to do is sweat. Sweat the plaster out of your body. The dream of every constructor? Bees let it come true. They got special wax glands, the wax is transpired by them, in the form of small plates. These wax pads function as concrete. That is why bees need a hive temperature of 35° degree Celsius. It is the perfect temperature to soften and mold the wax. And it creates a comfortably warm atmosphere for the breed.
To help them out while it is rainy outside we served them cold camomile tea with loads of sugar. Provisions to bridge times of lousy weather. It is served in a bowl with a few little sticks that they can sit on when taking a sip.
Quick recipe: Mix hot water and sugar 2:3 until it is sirup. To be served cold.
The rain passed by and all of the sudden it was summer time. Hoping that the sugar soup was not addictive I watched the hurly-burly at the beehive's entrance: Bees leaving the hive, bees arriving at it, being in the final descent, being at the ready. Some bees were just sitting and enyoing the sun, while two guarding bees kept an eye on me. Why is she staring at us? Very probably what they had in mind.
I always try not to overinterpret the hubbub at their entrance, but the guardians sometimes look bugged. Frying in the heat. From all sides bees are whirring around them. Many just bump into them while landing. As if this was not enough the one or other is dancing and shaking its bum towards them. The guardians seem quite on the edge. And what is the dancing all about? One of the cutest facts about bees is about to follow. But first have a look at the airstrip.
Bees have developed the loveliest way to have a conversation by trying a step or two. By dancing around in front of others a bee tells its fellows, where to find the best snacks. The gourmet food, brought home by a bee, is tasted by the other bees at the stock. If it is pleasant to eat, they ask the feeding-bee, where it got the nectar from. The feeding-bee then points the way by dancing around. Since antiquity humans have tried to find out, what the different dances mean. After today's knowledge it can be translated in the following way: When a bee is dancing in a round the food is somewhere near by. The dancing-bee tells the others where to find the prize by nudging their antennae. The bees then try to track it by the smell. If it is located far away, the dancing-bee starts wagging its tail to give the others more accurate flying instructions. The destination of flight? Nectar, pollen, honeydew or water.
The only ones that target water are the elderly bees. Since it is a dangerous business to collect water drops out of a river or lake that they could fall into, the old aged bees are given this task. On the one hand they are more experienced, on the other hand they will pass away soon anyway. But no matter how cruel nature can be - this wise old bee considered that a bowl with rainwater is way more savely.
Wanna read more? Right now the bees are holding winter sleep. Meanwhile your questions and feedback are always welcome and can be send to the writer of this article: Ananda Rani Bräunig (anandabraeunig.wordpress.com). Soon this story will continue. Many details haven't been told yet. For example, how the little wings of two bees became handy when they blow-dried one of their friends that accidentally became wet...
More information about the urban villa that the bees are living in: www.beekiss.org
(c) Ananda Bräunig