Nestled outside of the mid-century modern entrance of the Mermaid Ranch are two swarming honeybee hives. These hives (along with other small-batch East Hampton honeybee colonies produced the beeswax used in Honeyblood, our latest edition to the WAX BBY collection.
As team WAX BBY darted anxiously around the busy bee houses, Jessica James, sole apiarist of the Mermaid Ranch, walked calmly by her hives as if each queen bee knew her by name.
As we stood on the porch in the warm June afternoon light, a swarm started to form above one of the hives. Jessica narrated as we watched: “The queen and her drones are about to swarm and establish a new hive, so a new queen can reign here.” The worker bees choose a single pupa to be their queen. They feed her only royal jelly, so she will grow stronger and larger than the rest of the brood. She holds sole reproductive autonomy over the brood, and only select, special drones will mate with her. The ultimate HBIC.
“A Queen bee can sting repeatedly, male bees (aptly called drones) sting once and die.” It’s just like at WAX BBY, where women rule the operations of the hive, watching over the brood that’s responsible for making the byproducts that we consume and burn. Fitting.
Jessica crossed her arms as we stood beside her. “Bee sweat and bee vomit, that’s all that beeswax and honey are,” she said. Repulsive as this may seem, the production of beeswax and honey is as natural as wax gets.
After harvesting nectar and pollen from the blooming plants and trees, honey bees take their souvenirs back to the hive where they rapidly begin production on honey and wax.
For humans, honey is a natural sweetener, it cures allergies, and is naturally antibacterial. For bees, it’s a source energy. Wax, on the other hand has no nutritional value. It is an essential component to the structure of the hive.
Here and there, throughout the summer, Jessica will take each frame back to her house to harvest the honey. Harvesting involves “uncapping” the beeswax off of those little waffle-like hexagonal cells. Once uncapped, each frame will release about 3-4 lbs of fresh honey— aka bee vomit. At 10 frames a hive, that a good 30-40 lbs of honey harvested per hive.
By the end of our meeting with Jessica, we understood how exceptional beeswax truly is. Thousands of tiny workers operate as a team to produce honey, build their house, and pollinate their environment. They work so hard that eventually, they die of exhaustion—the drone’s wings just stop beating.
As we melted chips of one of the blocks of beeswax that Jessica harvested for us, a deep, warming, honey smell wafted through WAX BBY studio. We might not be cooking up Honeyblood under the plant-filled rafters and floor-to-ceiling bayside windows of the Mermaid Ranch, but at least this sweet smell is an escape from the humid Brooklyn summer air.
Sole reproductive female in a honeybee hive. The queen is larger than the rest of her hive.
After the larva hatches, the bee moves into pupa stage in a cocoon before it metamorphosizes into an adult bee.
Bee house. Can be manmade or can look like the ones in Winnie the Pooh.
All bees in a hive that operate under the queen.
When a queen and part of her hive move to create a new hive. This happens when a new queen hatches.
Scraping wax off the honeycomb to release the honey.
Sugary fluid released by flowering plants. Also the drink of the gods.