Housekeeping in the Hive: And Honeybee Ice Cream
Aunt Linda here:
Honeybees and Housekeeping. These may not be two words that we naturally put together. Yet, to enter the hive and meet a day-old worker bee, it is surprising to see first hand that her first tasks involve housekeeping.
Bees don’t wait for the springtime urge to purge; their system is employed year round. Genetic testing of honeybees preserved in amber reveal that bees have changed remarkably little over 60 million years. Nature selects “what works”, and hives with strong “housekeeping” and hygiene habits are more resistant to disease, and thus more able to put their energies into filling their pantries and nurseries, and do not waste precious energy battling diseases and infections.
In the brood nest of the hive, we see that immediately after a baby worker bee emerges from her cell, she grooms herself — and then feasts mightily on pollen and honey. Her very next task is to clean out the cell from which she has just emerged. In fact, between her first and third day of life, baby workers clean, and even polish, cells so that those cells are ready to receive either a new egg that the queen will lay or to store freshly gathered nectar and/or pollen. The photos below are from my hives, taken yesterday.
Note in the photo above that the newly emerged bee is a bit lighter and fuzzier than the slightly older bees. This flat capped part of the hive is the worker nursery and the fuzzy bee has just emerged. You can see that slightly older house bees are adding nectar to the cells; which they will transform into honey.
In the bottom portion of the photo below at least three young workers are “working” in the cells, their little bee butts protruding upward, their heads tucked into the cells. In the upper left of the photo two holes (one small, one large) in the capped cells show bees which are just emerging, The open cells nearby have nectar. The open cells in the upper right of the photo look to me as if they are being readied for more eggs/brood.
During the next few weeks of her life, (up until about her day 16 or so) she and other young workers remove dead bees. They carry the corpses as far away from the hive as is possible. Watching them efficiently struggle in this task always amazes me; I attempted to take a photo of a bee corpse being carried out of the hive, but the fates didn’t align with a wanted photo opportunity. If I come across one in the next few weeks, I will post it.
Bees use propolis ( a substance made from plant resins, which has remarkable antimicrobial/disinfectant qualities) to varnish the hives walls, reinforce and stiffen comb, to seal up holes and spaces they feel are too big. Fascinatingly, they also used it to seal up the corpses of invaders, such as mice or larger insects, that are stung to death, but are too big to remove. The propolis essentially mummifies the creature, thus reducing significantly the chances of illness or infection to the hive. A hive that is a bit hard for a beekeeper to open because it is sealed with propolis usually indicates a thriving hive. In the photo below, the bees have created a smaller entrance for protection from marauding bees. I added this photo so you can imagine how bees might “seal” a mouse.
(The bee you see at the entrance may be a guard bee; age of bee is between 18-21 days).
I like to take bees on their own terms, and not romanticize them, demonize them, nor to project values onto them. I will admit, however, to feeling inspired by them. Personally, I am not a very skilled housekeeper. I am, however, startled by how remarkably good it feels to remove “dead” energy, let’s call it Clutter, from the hive I call home. As I do this, I find my energy freed up. Often, after some deep culling, new ideas arise; fresh insights beckon, solutions present themselves.
Today, let’s be like that freshly emerged worker bee. After grooming ourselves, we’ll feast on honey and pollen (recipe below) to fortify ourselves for our own version of housekeeping.
Honeybee Ice Cream – (the basic) recipe:
Prep the ice cream maker of your choice; I love the old style hand crank kind, using ice and rock salt – but you may use the lighter, more user friendly ones – where you freeze the container ahead of time.
2 cups organic milk
2/3 cups honey – as local as you can get
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
Over medium to low heat, and being careful not to scald it, heat the milk in a stainless steel pan, about five minutes, whisking in the honey and salt as the milk warms.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl, and add ½ of the milky mixture above, and whisk it – slowly – into the eggs. Stir this milk/egg mixture back into the milk in the pan and heat again over the med-low heat for another 5 minutes, stirring consistently so that you don’t scorch it.
Remove from heat – pour mixture into a glass/ceramic bowl and let it cool completely. Once cooled; whisk in the heavy cream, vanilla. And process in the manner you prefer (by simply freezing it, milling it in one of those cold -ice cream machines, or the old fashioned “arm crank” method)
Beyond the basic recipe: Considering the 60 million year old dance between flowers and honeybees, why not consider adding a few of the edible flowers that Carolyn wrote about this month. Below are some Elderberry flowers (with a few scented geranium, in purple) that I added to my ice cream.
You might also sprinkle pollen on top, or even put it into the mixture of ice cream itself. There is honey already in the this ice cream, but drizzling some on top in place of caramel or chocolate might be sweet.
Note: Conventional thinking is that raw honey may not be healthy for infants under one year, pregnant women, or breastfeeding mothers/babies. It is worth talking with your health care practitioner about. And though uncommon, some people find that they have a reaction to pollen, so start with small quantities.