In the autumn, workers cease feeding the drones, and they weaken and die. Workers then drag them from the hive. It's a maleless society during the winter.
Honey and nectar are the primary food sources for the adult bee, and pollen is the bee's source of protein. "The bees suck the nectar up through their long tongues and store it in a sac called a honey stomach," Hubbell writes. "When this is full, they fly back to their hives and transfer nectar to the young bees, who spread it, drop by drop, throughout the honeycomb in the hives. When most of the water is removed from the nectar, the bees cap each cell of finished honey with snow-white wax that is secreted in flakes from their wax glands."
Bees make honey from nectar by doing two things. They secrete enzymes that change the sucrose in the nectar to simple sugars. To prevent fermentation, bees reduce the water content in the nectar to around 17 percent, both by manipulating the nectar in their mouths and by evaporation, a process the bees help along by fanning their wings to create air movement over the comb.
The worker bees are covered with little hairs. As they travel from flower to flower, pollen adheres to the hairs. The bee then works its legs to brush the pollen into pollen baskets, located on its back legs. In this process, bees inadvertently pollinate plants.
Hardworking bees not only pollinate flowers in the garden and native plants, but contribute as well to agriculture. In the United States in 2000, 14.6 billion dollars' worth of crops depended on bee pollination, and the honey produced last year, according to the USDA, had a value of $255 million.
Chuck Nichols runs San Luis Rey Apiaries with his son in Valley Center. "We've been in a partnership business since 1980," Nichols said. "I have been keeping bees off and on as a hobby since I was 9 years old, and I'm 76 now, so I've been around it for a few years. When I was 9 I had a fascination with bees. I was raised in an orange grove in the San Gabriel Valley, and a guy down the street had a couple of hives of bees. I used to go down and watch them going in and out, going in and out, and one day I found a nice big swarm in my father's orange grove, and so the guy down the street helped me get it, and that's how I started."
For Rex Christensen, beekeeping was a family trade. "I was kind of born into it. My grandfather, John Slivkoff, was a Russian immigrant who moved to Vista in, I think, 1915. Bought a place off of Foothill and San Clemente. He started in bees. My great-grandfather had bees in Russia. My grandfather started having bees in 1931. I was born in '53, so we had between 40 and 100 colonies on the ranch here in Vista all the time. When I got out of high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I moved to Colorado for a while and I came back, and there was an old man, Forrest Thomas, here in Vista who was a beekeeper, and he needed someone to help him for the summer. I started with him. That was 1971, and I've been doing it ever since. I apprenticed right here on this spot. He used to own this. He got me started with a couple hives. And when my grandfather got too old he gave me all his equipment."
Christensen's operation is called First Fruit Apiaries. "I'm glad some information's getting out that puts us in a good light, because some people are afraid of bees. They don't understand that bees are a necessity. Most of our food comes directly because of bees. If we don't have bees, the fruit that does develop on our trees -- or our melons or squash or whatever -- doesn't have the size, the shape, the abundance of produce. The bees are necessary. If we don't have bees in avocados, for instance, we don't get a crop. They scream for bees in avocados. They scream for bees in almonds. California is the biggest almond producer. Eighty percent of all the almonds in the world are produced in California because of the bees. Plums, apples, pears, cantaloupes, alfalfa for raising cattle. If you don't have the bees, you don't have the crop.
"It's a very expensive business to start," Christensen said. "If you were to get started, it would probably take, right now, to get what I have, a million dollars at least, because it's $100 a colony. Then you've got all the extra boxes. They're going to cost you about $15 to $20 apiece, depending on the condition. Then you have to have a building. You have to have trucks.
"We're running about three people. Me and a couple other guys. I've got a couple teenagers that come in and help from time to time. The other guys I have working for me are beekeepers, and they have their own bees too."
Replacing queens is also an expense. They usually cost between $8 and $10 apiece. Christensen estimated that he'd spent $3000 on queens last year.
If Christensen were purchasing queens from Suki Glenn, his cost would be exponentially higher. Suki and her husband Tom live in De Luz, where they own and operate Glenn Apiaries, a business that specializes in honeybee queens.
"We've been working together in the bee business since 1987," Suki said. "When I was in college I had a roommate who had a beehive, and I just got interested in it. My brother had worked for a beekeeper when he was in high school, so I was already predisposed to that. Just started it as a hobby, having a few hives and selling the honey and selling equipment. It started out as a hobby and it grew into a business.