July 11, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Co-workers are all abuzz about new neighbors who have moved into the northeast corner of the Permaculture site on the Motherhouse Campus. The new neighbors are also abuzz – about their new home and the work that they do, day in and day out, to make a difference in sustaining Earth.
The new neighbors are two swarms of nucleus honeybees, local Michigan bees that inhabit two hives and now pollinate the wildflowers in the Permaculture garden.
Each hive is ruled, in a sense, by its queen bee, which lays the eggs that become female worker bees and the male drones, whose “sole purpose is to provide genetic diversity,” explained Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist. “The female bees produce the wax from their bodies and they build the hive and maintain it and take care of the queen.”
Elaine brought in the local bees from Tecumseh, Michigan. Knowing the key role that bees and other pollinators play in sustaining the environment, Elaine started researching bees, took a bee class, and joined the local River Raisin Beekeepers Club. There, she met her mentor, Jessica Alcock, who provided her with a miniature hive and five frames, each filled with brood – their eggs and larvae – and honey. “I’m starting with miniature hives and queens that can handle the Michigan winter,” she said.
Bees swarm around the hive as Elaine Johnson pries out one of its honeycombs to examine.
As the beekeeper, Elaine spends about an hour every 10 days inspecting the frames for honey and watching for new queen cells, which indicate the worker bees are preparing for a new queen. Ideally, she said, beekeepers keep the current queens for two to four years, depending on how proficient the queen is in laying eggs.
She explained the distinction between honeybees and native bees, which are often solitary and die at the end of the season. The nucleus honeybees survive through the winter, remaining in their hive and forming a ball, or swarm. “[Some] bees will die and the swarm will shrink, but hopefully by the time it starts to heat up again, they’ll get working again,” she said.
“I have always been interested in beekeeping and finding ways we could offer reciprocity with different Earth beings,” Elaine said. “Working with bees is a great way to start a conversation that highlights the importance of habitat regeneration for the sake of all bees, and a great way to get people interested in and experienced with bees.”
Elaine has high hopes for her bees – and the influence they can have on local people and the environment. After this initial season with the bees, she hopes to invite people to learn about bees and experience them in a way that is safe. “I haven’t been stung yet,” she said. “I hear if you go slow and are gentle, and there’s a good source of nectar pollen … as long as they’re busy, they won’t have time to sting you.”
Feature photo at top: Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist, examines a honeycomb frame from one of two hives at the Adrian Dominican Sisters' Permaculture site.