The bee colony lives in the bottom two boxes and builds the comb from the bottom up. The worker bees (which are all female) gather pollen and nectar from every plant they can—in Big Sur, they have access to a menu that includes huckleberry, dandelion, lupine, rosemary, fennel, and even poison oak. During spring bloom, when fruit trees start to flower, the bees have yet more choices, taking their pick of avocados, apples, berries, and persimmons, to name a few. That way the seasons’ flavors don’t get blended together.
In addition to doing “waggle dances”, bees communicate with each other primarily through smell. The queen bee, who sits tight in the center of the hive and can live for more than five years, releases pheromones that dictate the whole mood of the hive. So if she’s anxious, it rubs off on all the other bees.
Because bees rely so heavily on their sense of smell, it’s important to pay close attention to odor when you’re approaching the hive. To make honey, worker bees fly out of the hive and collect nectar from flowering plants, helping to pollinate them in the meantime. After ingesting and regurgitating the nectar a few times until it is partially digested, they deposit it in the comb’s cells. Then the bees in the hive beat their wings to create a breeze to help the water in the honey evaporate. The bees are looking for about an 80/20 ratio of sugar to water—too much sugar and the honey will become solid; too much water and it will ferment into mead.