FLOATS LIKE A BUTTERFLY April Lance shows off a healthy honeycomb
They have other interesting habits as well, like only pollinating one plant species at a time. If it's Tuesday and the hive is pollinating daffodils, every bee is pollinating daffodils. At Myers' vineyard, they seem to have been snacking on mustard ground cover in an adjacent field. (Grapes, in contrast, are wind-pollinated.) And though they are sometimes confused with the comparatively aggressive yellow jacket, which is a meat eater that can sting multiple times, honeybees are vegetarians that can only sting once, if at all.
Bill Myers is waiting in the driveway as Lance pulls up to the vineyard. An industrious and bustling fellow in his own right, Myers is engaged in some light "biodynamic" vineyard practices here, which includes the bees, some olive trees and a raised-bed garden patch where he'll grow tomatoes and other produce come springtime.
"He doesn't make money from any of that," says Lance, "but he does take good care of the bees."
Everyone gets suited up in the familiar beekeeper's garb—the suits are white to keep the bees from thinking we're bears—and Myers fills Lance in on the activity in his hives as she lights a smoker, which helps further calm the bees during the hive dive.
There's not much going on inside the first hive, which is made from stacked wooden boxes and filled with man-made honeycomb racks that the bees will use as a basis for their own industrious output of wax and honey. Lance and Myers pry off each of the stacked wooden boxes and perform some sanitizing maintenance on the hive that's not hosting any bees by giving the wood a light burn with a propane torch. This hive isn't working, Lance says, because of a lack of available pollen, which itself stems from a lack of available water in drought-stricken California.
The other stack, well, it's a veritable beehive of activity. Pollen-laden honeybees crowd the entranceway, and thousands of bees buzz about as the hive is taken apart, cleaned and put back together.
Lance spots the queen among her thousands of offspring, and great care is taken to ensure that she is returned to the hive after Lance and Myers finish the hive dive.
The hexagon-shaped pockets are filled with honey, or with bee larvae. It's a pretty amazing social structure. Honeybee hives are the ultimate matriarchal society—the large queen lives out her days surrounded by an all-male brood, whose lifespan is a frenzied four to six weeks. The queen lays about a thousand eggs a day and will "invite" various wild-eyed suitors into the hive in the springtime, who are known as "drones." The drones don't have a stinger; their entire purpose is to mate with the queen bee.
The thousands of in-house bees—the brood—have a honey-do list, so to speak. Some of the brood are guards, who watch over the hive for yellow jackets or other unwelcome intruders; others are foragers, out in the world collecting pollen; and then there are scouts, who head out to see where the hot pockets of pollen are for the rest of the crew. All of them strive to keep the hive at a cozy 98 degrees with heat from their wings, which flap about 200 times a second.