Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mata Hari and Spies Arrive at French Hotel

While I drifted through New Orleans on a borrowed and brand new, shiny, fire engine red Cruiser, the Bee Team received another hive on the Metropolitan rooftop! We welcome Mata Hari, our queen of the new Italian honeybees from the heartland of Ohio, and her brand new colony. For simplicity's sake, I'll refer to hive #2 as The French Hotel and its inhabitants as the Spies.

Rumors of the Spies' erratic behavior preceded my first encounter with them. Who are these wild beasts with wings? I contemplated on my early-morning A train journey. Whispers of Brandon being stung not once BUT TWICE may have frightened timid beekeepers, perhaps challenging their notions of life and death. But the Bee Team is composed of fearless individuals with iron wills and valiant hearts. We climbed the arduous stairs and strode toward the French Hotel without flinching.

It is best to approach any hive from the side, so as not to block the flight paths of the busy bees. A human standing before the hive's entrance is tantamount to a group of lollygagging teenagers blocking the subway entrance after school lets out. They're regardlessly annoying, but infuriating when one tries to weave through their profanity-spouting, teenage-P.D.A. sessions when carrying half of one's weight in groceries. Sting-worthy, if you will.

You'll notice that The French Hotel looks like natural wood, but as we all know, looks can be deceiving. It is painted, albeit clear-ish, to decelerate the inevitable rotting process of the wood. Contrastingly, the White House (aka Hive #1) bears a pale yellow coat, despite its name (that I just assigned.)

The Spies were certainly bolder than the inhabitants of
the White House, (now called Secret Service.) However, their tendency to fly directly into people and crawl on clothes and hair seemed more a function of curiosity than intimidation.

Here, they can be seen organizing themselves already: guard bees at the ready, foragers coming and going:

We all agreed that the Spies' appearance was noticeably different than that of the Secret Service: more distinct stripes, bigger, sleeker and shinier.
The first order of bees-nass was to check on the Bee Tea feeder in the French Hotel. These bees are still feeling their way around the Big Apple, so we provide them with easy food access in case they experience reclusive shock.

As you can see, they did a number on the Bee Tea. We feared that the Spies might have overindulged and that a bee hangover might have prevented them from getting to work in the hive. To check on their progress, we removed the feeder to inspect the brood box.

Hi Spies! Since all we have is the White House as a real live example of normal bee-havior, our first observation was positive. Looks like things are good in the French Hotel neighborhood. Little Spy faces expressed rainbows of emotion. In just this one photo, I see fierce, confused, elated, surprised, and suspicious:
Eagle Eye Eddie spotted some pristine white honeycomb on one of the frames, suggesting that the suspected bee-bauchery was a mere delusion. The Spies, in true honeybee fashion, had been working their tails off! See the comb?

We decided to inspect the frames to see what other progress the bees had made (and in hopes of catching a glimpse of her Majesty, Mata Hari.)

The gradually sloping white plateau seen on the frame is beeswax-constructed honeycomb. Worker bees get started on construction as soon as they consume enough nectar (and Bee Tea.) This same nectar is used in honey production. But creating honey without comb is like buying ice cubes to keep in a cabinet.

Now I'm no expert, but it looks to me like we actually caught the Spies making beeswax. Once the toddler-aged workers (5-15 days old) collect enough nectar in their abdomens, they smoosh together as if huddling for a team cheer. But instead of chanting "Go Yellow!" in unison, the heat generated from their bodies causes them to secrete viscous wax on the bottoms of their tummies. Apparently, the bees' tummies look like they're growing wax scales on them during this process. (I cannot promise a photo of this phenomenon.) Once finished, they scrape off the scales with their little bee legs (and knees,) and transfer them into their little bee mouths. They chew and chew and chew until the wax is soft enough to transform into those famous hexagons. Each hexagon points upward at an angle of 13 degrees, so that baby bees and nectar won't succumb to gravity's unfailing persistence.
If you noticed the slight angle of the white beeswax cells in the photo above, (creating a slight opaque barrier to the sunlight shining through the frame,) feel free to tack on an introductory adjective synonymous with "observant" and beginning with the same letter as your first name. Clear-Sighted Cara. Astute Alex. Keen Katie. Eagle Eye Eddie. Perceptive Penelope. Discerning Deuteronomy.

Ah, the arduous search for the queen, frame by frame by frame... with me pointing out about 13 different drones in hasty excitement... mountains and mountains of... WAIT. Is that Mata Hari?!?!?

Why, that sneaky little spy! Sneaky big spy, I should say. In both photos she manages to elude the camera partially, through a reflective wing of one of her attendants, or behind a pile of bees attempting to block the camera's line of vision. It worked: they climbed into my aperture range and put the focus on themselves instead of their queen. Their ingenuous wing shield provides a disembodying illusion that envokes doubt. However, Mata Hari's amber entirety is simply too striking too overlook, despite her best attempts.

Satisfied, we reconfigured the French Hotel. I noticed that the Scarlet Sage I'd planted a month ago and photographed on April 28th as a shy young budder peeping out into the scary world, in 2 weeks had shot skyward and erupted with ruby blossoms.

How inspired!

Back outside the docile White House, the Secret Service could be seen foraging like mad while Michelle Obama undoubtedly led the colony with strength of intention. It looked like a truckload of tiny yellow Hammer pants had exploded and landed on the bees. It was definitely Hammer Time!
98% of the pants we saw today were yellow, 1% orange, and 1% green. I believe the girl in the green Hammer pants was doing the Running Man on a frame in the French Hotel. (Other witnesses will concur that she was dancing, but might contest the dance form. The Running Man is, of course, named such because it is impossible for any animal other than human to perform.)

If I were still a teacher and the hives were my students, the White House would be the student that the French Hotel could emulate. The French Hotel is certainly on its way, but being the new foreign exchange student, has some catching up to do. Luckily, it has an exemplary neighbor to whom it can turn with both concerns and accomplishments.
The Bee Team decided that this grouping above, (on a frame in the newest wing/super in the White House,) contains both Spies and Secret Service. This intermingling is a good thing. They can help each other out.

The White House was looking so productive that there was no way we'd disturb them. We observed their insanely dedicated work ethic for a bit, then headed off to brew new, nutritious Bee Tea for the French Hotel.
We used the same recipe as our original Bee Tea, minus the Stinging Nettle. (I mean, we're still pretty doting.) We diluted, steeped, strained, and bottled it, then proceeded to admire its beauty in the sun and pose it for a tres chic photo shoot fit for Mata Hari herself.

Empirical evidence shows that bees, humans, and cats enjoy the taste of Bee Tea.
A shelf in Jill's fridge, a thing of simple beauty and a sign of soulful living:
Good to be home.

1 comment:

  1. everything about this is beautiful