A couple clusters of reddish-pink bee balm have pushed their frilly heads above the rest of the perennials outside my office window – purple aster, red-yellow daylilies and the violet-white scaffolding of Bear’s Breeches among the other flowers in full bloom.
I’m looking at them right now. I’ve always preferred that cluttered English garden to long sheets of color, which, while appealing in one sense, are about as visually sexy as linoleum.
None of my outside window planting is an accident – although many of the perennials have begun to skirmish with each other for room. We spend too much time thinking about how our gardens look to others outside the house, not giving enough thought to how they look peering at them from inside the house – especially when the Meuse hasn’t yet landed.
The bees are busy at out there right now, oblivious to all but the job at hand, so focused on their pollen and nectar collecting each is able to ignore the dozens of other bees in the same patch.
Bees are very good at that kind of stuff – and they sure are suffering drastic losses in our environment. Yes, the Latin name for my rangy, reddish-pink flower is monarda – and named for a Spanish physician named Nicolas Monardes who died in 1588 for crying out loud – but it is called bee balm for a reason.
Bees own it. They have an amazing work ethic – with two stomachs. They collect nectar with straw-like tongues, mix it with enzymes in their stomach, haul it back to the beehive and put it in cells. Then they must fan the nectar with their wings to draw out the moisture and make honey. All I have to do is sit here and try to think up the next word to put in a sentence.
Bees are covered with tiny hairs all over their bodies, even their eyes. Pollen sticks to those hairs as they crawl around the flower. The pollen is then moistened with nectar and brushed down into tiny baskets on their hind legs. Most gardeners just have to find their pruners after a long day trimming bushes.
And collecting pollen is only half the struggle. Bees don’t have a McDonalds. They have to haul the pollen back home, mix honey and nectar with it, and pack it down into cells to feed this “bee bread” to the queen and her baby bees.
And, oh yeah, as a byproduct of all that pollen packing, the bees will fertilize millions of billions of flowers around the world. And they have been doing it a long time.
Bees have short lives – and job security. A strong hive will have 50,000 to 60,000 bees, including thousands of drones and worker bees, and just one queen.
Here is the X-rated part of this tale. The drones mating with the queen is sexual suicide. The queen flies out in search of a mate, and the drones fly around to compete for the chance. At the climax of all that the drone’s very private part is left in the queen, and the drone falls to the ground and dies.
One queen will mate with a dozen sex-crazed drones in flight, and thus will have enough sperm in her sperm pouch to lay about a million eggs – at 1,500 a day. Some queen bees can live three to five years.
I’m exhausted just writing about it.