Today I am thinking about democracy. No, not to do with the General Election but rather a book I should have bought years ago., Professor Thomas Seeley’s, “Honey bee democracy.” Professor Seeley, did various experiments which looked at how bees make decisions. This is important at the moment for the bees with the swarming season due to start, probably around the first week in May with the season being a bit later than last year.
When a swarm leaves the hive, they will probably settle on the branch of a tree or somewhere similar and send scouts out looking for a new home. If I can make the already prepared new homes I have attractive to them, with luck I can miss out the intermediate stage of catching the swarms and introducing them to their new homes.
Seeley found that the bees ideal home has a volume of about 40 litres, is about 16 foot up in the air (I think from memory) and has a relatively small entrance that can be easily defended.
The scouts that go looking for a new home will come back and report using the waggle dance. Those that have found somewhere promising will having reported persuade some more bees to go have a look. When these all report back the swarm will collectively decide which one seems like the best option and all move off as one.
The bees also have democratic ways of deciding other things. While many think of the queen as controlling what happens this is not true. The queen does what the workers tell her. Prior to swarming what she is fed changes to ensure she is not too heavy to fly. She also stops laying eggs, meaning there is a break in brood production which is important in the control of varroa. The workers control how many eggs she lays, not only to control when the colony should swarm but also according to the forage available and how many young the number of flying bees will be able to feed.
One facet of permaculture is learning from and mimicking patterns from nature and honey bee democracy is one of the patterns that we could benefit from studying, especially with regards to our people care designs.