Cradling a handful of bees on the palm of my hand was a honey of a delight, one I will never forget. The little ladies gently crawled over my fingers and hand, tickling me with their feather-light touch. They didn’t sting , but stayed busy producing nectar and collecting pollen which provides important cross pollination for many plants. Every few seconds one or two of the female worker bees would fly off to return to their job in the hive.
I had the rare opportunity to visit the hives belonging to Savannah Bee Company with the calm and compassionate owner, Ted Dennard. First, Ted led my group on a tour of the manufacturing plant where we saw honey being bottled, labeled and sealed into jars.
Then, I donned a beekeeper’s veil, a mesh helmet that keeps out insects but lets air circulate. We walked to the hives, in this case, wooden boxes filled with removable sections. Each section contains honeycombs which are supported on wood and wire frames.
A smoker, a metal can containing burnable leaves was lit and smoke was aimed toward the hive. Ted explained that when bees smell smoke, they gorge themselves on honey and are less likely to sting.
Each hive contains a large group or colony consisting of around 30,000 bees. There are just three types of honey bees: workers, drones, and queens. The workers are the smallest and they are all females. They make the honey, clean the hive, feed larvae (baby bees), and build the wax comb. In summer, workers live about six weeks spending their first three weeks as a house bee and the next three as a field bee.
Approximately one hundred drones or males live in each colony. They mate with the queen. Drones live for about eight weeks during warm months. These males usually leave the colony in the fall and die.
The largest bee is the queen and each colony has only one queen whose most important function is to lay eggs. A healthy queen can live up to four years and lay over one million eggs during her lifetime.
Ted lifted the wooden lid on the hive and then used a tool to pry apart the frames. He carefully lifted one out to show us the bees at work. These insects were so diligent to their job, they didn’t seem to notice our presence. We could clearly identify those bringing in pollen, those storing pollen, those making honey and those dancing. Dances tell other bees where flowers are located. Typically a round dance says that flowers are nearby and a tail-wagging dance speaks of flowers in the distance. Here’s the most amazing thing: the direction of the tail-wagging dances show the location of the flowers in relation to the sun, and the number of waggle runs per fifteen seconds indicates the distance. What brilliant bees!
My admiration for those tiny creatures was growing the more I learned. Just think: bees visit over two million flowers to make a pound of honey. My taste buds got the chance to be favorably impressed. Ted allowed me to stick my finger into the honeycomb and taste of the warm oozing gel- the sweetest, soothing food of the best kind.
Since the little darlings seemed to be so cooperative and had not stung anyone, I decided to let Ted place a group in my hands. Mind you, like most people I am fearful around bees and have felt the painful ouch of a sting many times. But, I was up for the new adventure. Ted scooped some up on the tool and transferred them onto my hand. The little ladies danced a ballet as if choreographed by the great Balanchine himself. There was no frenzy akin to the tune Flight of the Bumblebee. Instead, they tip toed and pirouetted more of an adagio, as if they heard a slow serenade of Georgia on my Mind.
In that moment I experienced the profound wonder of bees and understood the intense labor these tiny beings expend to produce the luscious treat. Thank you Ted and Savannah Bee Company for showing me the good (and definitely not any evil) within the sensuous city and gardens of Savannah. And, thank you honey bees of the world for helping sustain so much on Mother Earth.