The Honey Bees of Tryon Palace

Like their own separate kingdoms, the Tryon Palace bee brood boxes under the reigns of queens Charlotte and Margaret are filled with anywhere between 30,000-60,000 honey bees working for the betterment of their colonies. 

Established on March 22, just inside the greenhouse area of Tryon Palace Gardens, these two honey bee colonies are managed by greenhouse manager Freda Pyron and garden staff member Hadley Cheris. Pyron has worked with bees for around three years and Cheris finished bee school in September 2014. Armed with a smoker box and adorning beekeeper suits, Pyron and Cheris spent part of the morning Tuesday, April 28, inspecting the two colonies. 

Each colony is ruled by a queen, whose pheromones keep the bees busy at work on their colony. In addition to being larger, queens are often marked with dye for identification. The majority of the tens of thousands of other bees in the colonies are worker bees, which are sterile females that build the combs, collect and store nectar and pollen, feed the larvae, and clean the hive. A smaller number of males, called drones, also populate the hive. Larger than the worker bees, the drones’ only purpose in life is to fertilize a queen, after which each drone dies. 

Worker bees build three types of wax cells that make up the brood combs that differ in size and shape. Drone cells are wider than worker bee cells and the queen cell is larger and usually on its own (usually resembles a peanut). The queen lays eggs into each of the cells and the eggs hatch into larvae. The nurse bees feed the larva until they are ready to pupate, which is the metamorphosis from larvae to adult bee, and the cell is capped. After 10-11 days the adult worker bee emerges through the capping and joins the rest of the colony. 

Pyron and Cheris inspect the colonies every 2-3 weeks to make sure no invasive insects are disturbing the colonies and to check the bees’ progress. In another few weeks the frames that serve as the guide for the combs will be completely covered and an additional box, called a honey super, will be stacked on top of the brood boxes. The bees will then begin working in the honey supers, creating honey combs that Pyron hopes she can harvest in time for the Fall Heritage Plant Sale in October.