Jars of Jam
Image by Tim Kennelty

Food preservation includes canning, freezing, dehydrating, pickling and fermentation.

Episode Six: Food Preservation

In this episode, Rebecca Polmateer, from CCE, sets us straight on the ins and outs of Food Preservation. Learn about freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling and fermentation. Then listen to Teresa Golden talk about how to decide what to plant in your vegetable garden. This episode concludes with a fascinating conversation about the role of the queen bee in The Hum Of The Hive. Tune in and enjoy!

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas

Guest: Rebecca Polmateer


Food Preservation: National Center for Home Food Preservation (uga.edu)

Veggie Patch (Teresa Golden): Cornell Cooperative Extension | Food Gardening (ccecolumbiagreene.org) ; Cornell Cooperative Extension | Vegetables (ccecolumbiagreene.org) ; How to plan your vegetable garden | CAES Newswire (uga.edu) ; How Much to Plant Per Person in the Vegetable Garden (thespruce.com) ; Vegetable-Varieties-list-2022.docx (live.com)

Hum of the Hive (Linda Aydlett): Beekeeping calendar for the Northeast (Cornell University)

Beekeeping calendar for the Northeast

Honey Bee Queens: Evaluating the Most Important Colony Member

Bee Health

Buddha Bee Apiary


Welcome to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Our team's goal is to present science-based information about gardening and all things nature in New York's Hudson Valley. Hosts, Jean and Tim, along with team members, Teresa and Linda, are Master Gardener Volunteers for New York's Columbia and Greene Counties. So if you're interested in gardening, or nature, or nuggets of information about what's happening outside your door, settle in.Enjoy the conversation. Whatever the season, we have something to say.

Jean: Hi, this is Jean.

Tim: Hi, and it's Tim.

Jean: And we're here to talk about Food Preservation with Rebecca Polmateer. She's another one of those masterful types it seems. Tim's a Master Naturalist and a Master Forest Owner and Linda's a Master Beekeeper. Well, it turns out Becky is a Master Food Preserver.

Tim: I didn't even know there was such a thing.

Jean: I didn't either. I might get an inferiority complex hanging around these people. Becky's wonderful. However dumb our questions, she keeps a straight face and responds with "no, that's not how it works" and set us straight. Did you know tomatoes are fruit? And the tomatoes we grow now are nothing like what our grandma's used and have entirely different processing needs?

Tim: One of the things that Becky highlights is food safety. And that's really important because it really depends on the methods you use in food preservation. She talks about a lot of different methods. I think this is going to be a really good segment, especially for people who grow a lot of vegetables.

Jean: And our next piece is from Teresa, from The Veggie Patch,and it seems like she was listening to Becky very carefully. Her report is about choosing what crops to grow.

Tim: And we didn't even plan that.

Jean: I especially liked her suggestion that perennial veggies have their own designated area on the outskirts of the garden. I've been doing something like that for years. One of my perennial beds, in fact has a border of rhubarb. It's big leaves look very tropical and exotic and crowd out weeds pretty well. Another of her suggestions, my favorite, by the way, involved wheelbarrows. I like that, in fact, I have an armada of wheelbarrows. I love wheelbarrows, almost as much as I love lichens.

Tim: So our finale today is the Hum of the Hive and Linda Aydlett is going to talk about all things queen bee. It's an amazing segment I just loved it. It was great.

Jean: Well, your favorite part of it was the gossipy stuff.

Tim: Yeah, Linda talks about how the queen lays multiple queens and then they fight it out to the death. It's like Real Housewives of the Hudson Valley.

Jean: One of my favorite early spring sightings that Linda and I had been talking about is honeybees on crocus or dandelions or willows. It means there'll be an escape from another winter. Not to worry, don't be overwhelmed. Our webpage has links for you to catch up on the details of any of these stories. Let's sit back, relax and learn some really interesting stuff.

Tim: Welcome to today's conversation with Rebecca Polmateer, Program Director at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties. I'm Tim Kennelty, and I'm here with Teresa Golden. And we want to welcome you, Becky. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and your job description?

Becky: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I'm program director for the association which means that I actually lead the 4-H and Family Consumer Sciences program areas as well as our communications. I am also the Master Food Preserver for CCE of Columbia and Greene Counties. I've been doing that now for a few years. I kind of came up through. I started out as a nutrition educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension 12 years ago. So I just been, kind of, working my way up and, like I said, a few years ago, I went and took the training to become the Master Food Preserver for us.

Tim: So a big part of your responsibility is to educate the public about types of food preservation, and much of our show has to do with growing food from seed to harvest. But once we get to the storage of all that bounty, we really need your help and guidance.

Becky: Yes, so there's actually several ways that you can preserve your harvest. Besides cold storage and root crops and fruit. There are four main ways that we tend to talk about:that's freezing, dehydrating, canning and fermentation and, really, at CCE, what we're trying to do is teach the best evidence-based processes so that you know that what you're preserving should be safe to eat first, and that it should be the highest quality.

Teresa: I've had a lot of success with freezing vegetables. But is there a method that works better than others?

Becky: No, not necessarily. There's a lot of things to consider when trying to decide what method you want to use. So for example, you want to think about storage, space, shelf stability, maybe you have a family tradition, or something where you go and get together and can. So you really want to kind of think that through. For some people, maybe, you just don't have a lot of freezer space. So some of the more shelf stable options are better.

Tim: And are there particular vegetables that are better to preserve, or ones that you just would stay away from?

Becky: Again, it comes back to method of preservation. So pretty much any vegetable can be preserved in some manner. But for example, some don't freeze well. So you want to stay away from freezing cabbage, for example. Celery, and some of the products like that, they just don't hold up well in the freezer. Whereas they might actually can a little bit better for uses like soup. So it really depends on what you want to use the product for to decide what method that you want to pick.As I'm talking about things like cabbage, as you guys know, that's actually one that you probably don't need to take these extra steps because it does actually hold up pretty well in cold storage.

Tim: Well, we really need your help, because the first thing I'd think about doing is freezing cabbage.

Becky: I've frozen cabbage, it can work fine, but the quality goes down. So again, it depends on what you're using it for. So I've frozen it or in like a casserole where there's lots of other things. So if it gets kind of weird, texture wise. It's not that big of a deal.

Teresa: So what if I want to can a bunch of tomatoes, but my crop is either skimpy, or I've got the wrong kind of tomatoes? What would you suggest there?

Becky: Okay, so I would suggest that you would actually want to visit your farmers market, your local farm stand. or someplace like that, where they might have an abundance that you can buy in bulk to do your canning. One of the things we tell everyone, that if you're going to purchase your vegetables for preserving, just keep in mind things like the product that you can is the product that you get. So you want it to be of high quality. A lot of people will go places and get drops, for example. And we actually don't recommend that, because that's actually a lower quality product. And what you're going to actually get, is going to be a lower quality product. So it's more about you absolutely can go to purchase things, or you can trade things with your neighbors, but just pay attention to the quality of it. Because, like I said, what you put in is what you get out. Nothing's going to get better with canning. I can guarantee that.

Tim: So let's talk about canning. I'm intimidated when we talk about canning, because I'm always worried about getting sick from something like botulism. So how do you go about avoiding that?

Becky: So there's two types of canning we talk about. There's boil water canning, which is usually what a lot of people do, because that's the easiest method. That's your classic. I'm going to boil it in the big stock pot type thing on the other stove. And then there's pressure canning, which for some people is much more intimidating, because you have to get that special pressure canner and there's a lot more steps. Once you get used to it, it really isn't that scary. What you really want to consider when deciding between the two methods, because botulism is a big issue, is how much acid is in the food. So boil water canning absolutely cannot be done with low acid foods. That's where the botulism risk comes in. So you really want to really save boil water canning for fruits, and things that you're pickling. So you're adding acid in and you're making sure because acid is going to kill any kind of botulism that you might run into.

Becky: So those low acid foods do you have to then go into a pressure canner, I will really emphasize that you want to use best practices, evidence-based approaches with any type of canning, but especially with the pressure canner. We really recommend that you get your recipes that you're using from trusted sites. So and for those at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, if you want to just Google and look it up online, Cornell Cooperative Extension. If you prefer books, so easy to preserve. And the recipe books that Ball puts out are they're all safe, well known recipes. So again, with the pressure canning, I would especially say, you want to make sure you're using one of those recipes following the steps to a tee so you can make sure that the product that's coming out of there there's no risk for botulism. And like I said, with the boil water canning, as long as you're doing in high acid food, there's really no risk at all.

Becky: So again, fruits, pickled products, since we brought up tomatoes earlier, I always like to throw this one out. So tomatoes are a fruit so they can be canned in a boil water canner. That being said, over time, we have developed a taste for lower acid tomatoes. So what we recommend is if you're going to boil water, canned tomatoes, which there's no issue with, you do want to add some acid to that. So that just looks like I'm going to throw a little bit of lemon juice in the can with the tomatoes just to make sure that your tomatoes do have enough acid in them. But that's really the only thing that we say with fruits that you have to be careful with. Anything else, you can just boil water can without fear of botulism.

Teresa: Many cooks love to experiment with recipes. I'm assuming, because of the acid issues, you may not want to consider experimenting with canning recipes.

Becky: Absolutely not. So you follow your canning recipes to a tee, even jams and jellies. As canners will tell you, oftentimes their fruits and jellies won't turn out. And that's probably because they didn't necessarily follow the recipe. So we tell everybody, yeah, it's fun to experiment. But again, with canning, you absolutely cannot. It's a safety concern, especially when we're talking about vegetables, those low acid foods that you're pressure canning, and the same with pickling. So if you experiment with a pickled product, and you don't put enough acid in, then that botulism risk is still there, I already kind of mentioned the only places we recommend you get your recipes from, we do not recommend that you use, you know, grandma's recipes, because we know that some of those products have, like the tomatoes, have actually gotten different, they're different than they were 50-60 years ago. So just go to those websites, they have recipes for anything you could possibly want to can.

Tim: And we're going to want to get those websites from you. So we can put them on our website so people can access those and read those great recipes.

Becky: Absolutely, I'll be happy to send them to you. What's great about those places is they've truly done the science. So when they tell you that this product takes 40 minutes in the pressure canner to be safe, they actually have experimented with 20 minutes, 40 minutes and 60 minutes, and they're giving you the real honest, the safe place you need to be.

Tim: Let's move on and talk a little bit about dehydration. I'm fascinated with that. Tell us about vacuum sealing and how that works.

Becky: Okay, so vacuum sealing and dehydration are actually two separate things. So dehydration is when you're going to use a method like a dehydrator (something to suck the moisture out of it) and get it to that point where it's those little dry pieces that should be shelf stable. And then, from there, you can rehydrate them, throw them into soups, things like that. And that's a great way to preserve your harvest if you don't have a lot of room because again, you're shrinking everything down. But that again, if you're choosing dehydration, just keep in mind that you're changing the product. So most people don't just eat what they dehydrated, maybe some fruit but like vegetables and stuff, they usually have to put them in things. Vacuum Sealing is actually usually tied to freezing. So you're vacuum seal something, which is you get a machine that sucks all the air out. It just makes what you freeze, last a little bit longer. And also it helps with freezer space because it's compacting the product down. When we talk about vacuum sealing, it's really tied, like I said to freezing. Some people will take that extra step with their dehydrated products. I will say, to vacuum seal them, and then freeze them because again, they last longer. So if you just dehydrate something, it might not really actually last as long as you would like. So they dehydrate, vacuum seal, throw it in the freezer and then it stays for years.

Tim: And can you use a machine to dehydrate as well? I think I've seen those on Amazon. Or do you do it in kind of manual method?

Becky: So with dehydration, there's several methods to do it. And it really does depend on what you're trying to dehydrate. The machines are great. You can dehydrate anything in the machine. There's some things you want to consider when we talk about a dehydrator. You want to make sure that there's some kind of fan or air source, so you do want something blowing on it while it's dehydrating, and you also want to be thinking about higher-end dehydrators. They're like a square box, fans in the back, blowing on. Cheaper ones, the fan's at the bottom and blows up like the trays that you get out like at Walmart. Those can work well but not as well as the higher end. So again, it depends on how much you're doing, and what products you care about. There are methods with ovens. Those we don't really recommend, because most ovens actually don't get cool enough to dehydrate properly. It has to be set at like 200 degrees and most ovens don't go that low to actually dehydrate. And then we do not recommend you try to air dry anything other than herbs. So herbs, if you've got an herb garden, absolutely, there are ways of doing that way you can just hang their herbs up to dry and that's fine.

Teresa: The next method is all about fermentation. Isn't that just another word for pickling?

Becky: Actually not. So fermentation and pickling are two separate types of preservation. With pickling, we're talking about adding vinegar. And that's really has to do with canning. When we talk about pickling, what we're really doing is adding vinegar into something and making it so it's safe to boil water can. Also if you like that flavor of pickling. Fermentation is a more ancient method of preserving food where you actually leave it out. You usually add a brine to it. So that's like salt water. And yes, do that with pickles. You make fermented pickles, but you can also make the pickles that go... I know it's confusing... you can make the pickles that go into the canner that you add the vinegar to, or you can ferment them because that's one vegetable that does ferment. Other things that you probably think about when you think about fermentation is sauerkraut. So cabbage. Now, people are also experimenting with some newer things like kimchi, which is from Korea, and that's got a lot of spices in it, and heat. So there's kombucha, There's lots of different products that are fermented now. And really, that is a method of preservation where we're gonna prepare the product. Sauerkraut, for example, and pickles. We cut the cabbage up. We put it in a brine, and then we leave it to ferment and get its own bacteria. And people like fermentation because it's actually a way of getting really good, healthy bacteria. So you'll hear a lot of people talk about that for health. The one thing I want to caution everybody, when we talk about fermentation, is that as soon as you can it, you destroy all the good bacteria. Canning's about destroying bacteria. I'll work with a lot of people who are like, "Oh, I made these great fermented pickles, I made these great fermented sauerkraut, and then I can so it would last longer". And unfortunately, they're destroying your reasoning for that. I'm always like, well, if you're gonna make fermented pickles, don't can them. And if you just want canned pickles, do the vinegar thing. It's easier.

Teresa: Is there a difference to how long something that you fermented lasts, versus how long something you can lasts?

Becky: Yes. So a fermented product, once you get it to where you want to be, and you stop that fermenting patient process but in the refrigerator, and really, you're looking at maybe six months in the refrigerator of that fermented product. Whereas with a can, depending on who you talk to, it can last a year to 18 months for quality purposes. But in theory, they can last longer from a safety perspective. Whereas the fermentation, that fermented product actually tends to start to spoil and go bad. The other thing with fermentation, you want to be careful about, is if you do it incorrectly in spoils. So I've talked to a lot of people who ferment, who have lost whole harvests, of like cucumbers and stuff, because it got too hot in their house. So you want to be really careful if it gets 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, if it gets that hot, it actually will spoil instead of ferment. You got to be careful. You have to be able to control the temperature of your house.

Tim: So this, Teresa, is why we're talking to Becky she knows so much about this.I'm learning so much, and in my 'go-to' would be freezing. But I think I have some things in my freezer, I don't even know what they are. Are there specific methods for freezing?

Becky: There are specific methods. A lot of it has to do with how long it will last in your freezer. In a pinch, if you're going to be using the product, in a couple months, it's not the end of the world to put it in a freezer bag and stick it in there. But if you want it to last a year, maybe even longer, there are things to consider. And it's just like when we talk about all the other methods of preserving, it comes down to air and how much air is in your container. The more air, the quicker it's going to spoil. So that's where that vacuum sealing comes in, that things last a lot longer. Because you're taking all that air out. We'll talk about headspace, which is just how much air space you're leaving between the product and the lid. For example, if you're using freezer bags, I know, a lot like, I open up just a crack and then I squeeze as much air out as possible. Some people they like to use like the containers, the freezer safe containers. And then you want to be mindful of how much space you'd be leaving between the product and the top of the lid. Some people actually even will like they'll crumple up parchment paper or something and throw it in to kind of make it less space. So all those things play into how long is it going to be here? How should I package it? And what's really nice as I'm talking is all this information is honestly available at that National Center for Home Food Preservation. So you can go on there and say, "How do I freeze this product?" Or "Should I freeze this product?", and you can get that information. You can also give CCE a call and ask about that.

Becky: One thing I do want to touch on, because you brought up canning and botulism, vacuum sealing and freezing actually does create a botulism risk as well, because botulism thrives when there's no air and you're having your food at a certain temperature. So when you vacuum seal, and freeze something, that's safe. It comes down to when you're defrosting it. So what we tell everybody is, if you're vacuum sealing, what you want to make sure you do is introduce air before you defrost it. So you take it out, you open the package, you puncture it with a knife, whatever. But you have to make sure that air is now introduced to the product as it defrosts. Or else as it defrosts, in the vacuum sealed environment with no air, it actually can start producing the botulism toxin. You know, it's just that little extra step. But if you aren't told, it's always that you don't know what you don't know. So if you just kind of go and buy yourself a vacuum sealer and start doing it, it's really important to know what the steps you need to do to stay safe.

Teresa: So are there certain fruits and vegetables, you shouldn't freeze? Are there some better than others?

Becky: Absolutely. And like I said, this information is available online. But yes, and it doesn't actually come down to safety, it comes down to quality, what are you going to get when it comes out. So that food all might be safe to eat, it's just the texture is going to be completely different. Maybe the taste is going to be completely different. So some common things to stay away from: cabbage, celery, cucumbers, endives lettuce, parsley, radishes. They're all known to not really freeze well. And then there's a few other things that are more in line with cooking and stuff. But those when we're talking about the harvest, so those are things you're going to want to stay away from because they don't typically freeze very well.

Teresa: And then what do you do, if the power goes out, with your frozen foods? How long does it last? Or when do you have to throw it out?

Becky: Okay, so for the guarantee that it's still safe, what we tell everybody is, when your power goes out, you don't open the freezer, first of all. You leave it closed, and then you should be guaranteed 48 hours, as long as you didn't open it. Typically it stays that way. And actually, the more packed your freezer is, the longer that can be extended. So if you have a freezer with one or two things, which is totally not my freezer, it's packed full. But if you're one of those people with only a couple things in your freezer, it's actually going to go bad a lot faster. And I would definitely stick to that 48 hours, in that case. If it's packed completely full, typically, you might be able to get like another 24 hours without worrying about it. I even know people who, if for some reason their freezer isn't full, it's like half full, they'll put like packing peanuts or something in them to make sure that is happening. So, yeah, so 48 hours guaranteed. From there, when the power comes back on, open it up, see where you're at. So if things are like defrosted, unfortunately, you probably have to chuck it all. But if you right after the power comes back on, you open it up, everything still seems to be frozen solid, you're probably okay even if it's gone beyond that 48 hours. And then if you weren't home for a week, and you have no idea when the power actually went out. Sorry. We're big fans of the 'when in doubt, throw it out' mindset

Tim: Wow, this makes me just want to know more. I assume you have classes and do you have Master Food Preserver classes?

Becky: We do have classes. We honestly don't have anything scheduled right now. Typically, I like to do the actual food preservation classes when there's a harvest. So if you're interested, I'd look out more in late spring, summer time, maybe early fall, depending on what product we're talking about, where you will probably see classes. In the meantime, you can always give me a call. My contact information is 518-622-9820 extension 117. And if you're going to try or attempt something you've never had before, I'd be happy to help walk people through it, if you give me a call.

Tim: Thanks so much, Becky. This has been great. We really appreciate it. And as we said, we're gonna include links on the webpage. And it sounds like you're gonna be getting lots of phone calls. Certainly from me, I think in the fall. I'm just going to be calling you constantly. So thanks so much for your time, and we really appreciate it.

Becky: Thank you for having me.

You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Stay tuned for The Veggie Patch

Teresa: Welcome back to The Veggie Patch. I'm Teresa Golden from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, and today I'll be talking about what you could plant in your vegetable garden. There are so many different crops that can be grown in the Hudson Valley. But if your garden is like mine, space is limited, so you need to narrow down your options. The best choice of vegetables to grow is ones you'd like to eat. Consider your taste buds and those of your family in your selection process. And think about the number of people you plan to feed. Many vegetables come in seed packages that contain many more seeds than a typical family of four will easily consume. In the resources section of this podcast's website. You'll find some guides to help you determine how much to plant.

Teresa: And when selecting veggies to grow, also, consider the nutritional value of the plants: sweet potatoes, kale, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower all come to mind. Consider vegetables that are more expensive to buy such as garlic, leeks, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, and peppers. Also consider the amount of time you have to care for your garden. This is not a 'plant and done' activity, but rather one that requires regular maintenance. If you are a first time gardener or if time is an issue, consider focusing on veggies that are the easiest to grow.

Teresa: Cornell University publishes a document called vegetable varieties that you might find useful. It includes specific varieties that have been tested to grow well in New York State. Note that you may have to search for seeds or plants of these varieties in multiple catalogs, as they're not typically all available from your local nursery or box store. You can find this document in the resources section of this podcast's website.

Teresa: Once you know what you'd like to grow, start thinking about your garden layout. I'd suggest you plant taller, crops on the north and west sides of your garden so that they won't shade shorter, full sun plants. Consider grouping plants by their days to maturity. The advantage of this is that you can plant a second crop in that space, once the earlier crop matures. For example, lettuce or spinach can be planted early, followed by broccoli or green beans being planted in late June or early July.

Teresa: Plant perennial crops to the side of your garden where they won't be disturbed. These are things like asparagus or strawberries as they don't have to be rotated over the years. Finally, make sure that all garden areas are accessible to a wheelbarrow and there's space to tackle the inevitable weeds that will crop up. With all the seed catalogs that are probably popping up in your mailbox, this is a great time of year to plan your garden, and order seeds or plants for the spring. Happy planning.

You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Stay tuned for the Hum of the Hive.

Linda: Welcome back to the Hum of the Hive, a recurring segment of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. I'm your host Linda Aydlett, a Master Gardener Volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties and a Cornell University Master Beekeeper.

Linda: Over the next couple episodes, we'll talk a bit about the roles within the social structure of the colony, where each honeybee has a place and a job to do, almost like a cog in a well-oiled machine. But not cogs in an impersonal bored-like way as fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation might envision.More in a manner that evokes a wonder and amazement when you look more closely at how honeybees have adapted and evolved to survive. Most of you probably know that there are three distinct groups, or castes, that make up the social structure of a honeybee colony. That is, the queen. the worker, and the drone. The colony usually has only one queen, although at times a mother and daughter may be roaming about the combs but only for a short time, maybe a season or so. There can be literally tens of thousands of worker bees at one time. Each and every one focused on a specific job to do. Drones are male honeybees and make up the third caste and are present in much smaller numbers, in the hundreds, perhaps 1000 or so in the height of summer. Each caste, queen, worker and drone, has their own special needs to fill and none can survive long without the others.

Linda: So let's start with the queen bee, as she's often thought of as being the leader of the colony. She is the largest the honeybees are the 10s of 1000s of females in the colony here the queen honeybee is the only reproductive female, which makes it critical that she stay healthy and alive for the colony to thrive. And what makes a queen bee a honeybee? Well, from the moment she emerges as a larva from an egg, she'll be fed a special substance, called royal jelly, for her entire life. It's called royal jelly because its primary use is to nurture the queen. Royal jelly is incredibly nutritious containing twice as much protein and three times as much fat and is typically brought in from either pollen or nectar collected from plants.

Linda: A queen bee is quite limited in what she can do. She can't groom or feed herself, so she is often followed by a retinue of worker bees that surrounds her to take on those tasks for her. Her task is to perpetuate the colony. And she does this by laying up to 2000 eggs per day, mainly during spring into summer. That could add up to be about a million eggs or more laid over her lifetime. Day in and day out, the queen is continually traveling over the comb, searching for empty cells that have been cleaned and polished just for her. Researchers have found that as worker bees are building comb, they construct two sizes of hexagonal cells that are just a couple millimeters difference in diameter. There's an interesting reason for this. As the queen comes upon a suitable cell, she'll carefully measure the diameter with her front legs. She'll then back up into the cell and drop her long abdomen down until it touches the bottom where she'll deposit a single egg that looks like a grain of rice, but it's about half its size. So why did she stop to measure the diameter. Believe it or not, the cell diameter tells her whether to fertilize the egg or not. And whether an egg is fertilized, or not, determines the sex of the adult bee that will emerge a few weeks later. If the cell was measured to be the smaller diameter, the queen would leave an unfertilized egg which would develop into a female worker bee. But as she comes across a slightly larger cell, she would lay a fertilized egg, as this cell's diameter would better accommodate the bulky girth of the drone or a male honeybee. What's fascinating is the queen doesn't decide the distribution of sexes within the colony. The worker bees who built the comb did. And how do the worker bees decide how to distribute the sexes? Well, that's something we'll talk about in the next episode where we explore the broad range of roles, each worker bee plays in her short lifetime.

Linda: So back to the queen bee. Three days after every egg is laid, regardless of whether it's been fertilized or not, a very, very, small grub like larva emerges and is fed royal jelly for the next three days. Keeping in mind that the Queen is laying hundreds, if not 1000s of eggs per day. that's hundreds, if not 1000s, of hungry, larval mouths that are being fed royal jelly and it's done for a very specific reason that once again helps ensure that the colony lives on. What would happen if the Queen dies? Say, for instance, she's accidentally squished by the beekeeper. Sadly it happens. The colony would have to scramble to raise a new queen, which they can do without missing a beat. Remember, a queen is fed royal jelly her entire life, so that by having this emergency reserve of potential candidates, nurse bees will single out, maybe a dozen or so, of these newly hatched larva and continue feeding them nutrient-rich royal jelly needed to develop into queens.

Linda: You may have heard that there can only be one queen bee per colony and for the most part that is the case. So what happens, in this scenario, when dozens of queens, in the emergency reserve, hatch out within hours if not minutes apart from each other? In short, these new queens will seek out and try to sting their rivals to death. It's basically survival of the last queen standing. Emerging queens will often emit a piping or tuning sound. Let's take a listen.<<sound clip of piping queen is played>>

(Note: Queen Piping audio clipped used with written permission from Justin Maness of Buddha Bee Apiaries. )

Linda: Did you notice a second queen piping in response? Often as not, a rival will pipe back. If the rival piping in response hasn't emerged from her casing yet, she's doomed, as she'll be hunted down and stung to death through the casing. The queen's stinger is not barbed, so she can inflict multiple stings with no damage to herself. Once a rival is dispatched, the surviving queen is off to hunt down the rest of her rivals. It's basically a battle royale, where not only the victorious new queen survives, the colony lives on as well. This whole process is a colony's way of having a backup plan for replacement queen should the current queen be superseded, accidentally killed or take off on a flight with a swarm. As Dr. Jamie Ellis, a highly respected entomologist at the University of Florida, said in a recent webinar, "you can't make this stuff up".

Linda: We think of the queen bee as being the one who's in control. But as we see, it's not always the case. She can't feed herself. She can't groom herself. She can't even decide whether to fertilize an egg or not. Even so, her role, as the only fertile egg layer in the colony, is crucial. And she works in concert with others in the colony, which at this time of year is, to grow a strong population that's ready to take flight in time to harvest the nectar bonanza that will be available in just a month or two. So join me for the next episode of the Hum of the Hive as we delve further into the fascinating world of the honeybee. Thanks again for listening.

That concludes another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. We'd like to thank Sandra Linnell and Deven Connolly from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties for production support. And a special thank you to our listeners for joining us on this episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. You can find links to any of the topics mentioned in this episode at our website at ccecolumbiagreene.org. Comments and suggestions for future topics may be directed to us at colgremg@cornell.edu or on the CCE Master Gardener Volunteers of Columbia and Greene Counties' Facebook page.

For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, visit our website at ccecolumbiagreene.org or visit us in Hudson or in Acra. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides equal programming and employment opportunities

Last updated May 3, 2023