Posts Tagged ‘beehive’

David holds up a partially started honeycomb.

I had a lot of potential titles for this blog:

The Bee’s Knees

What’s the Buzz

Long Live the Queen

Bee Happy

The Eye of the Bee-holder

None of your Beeswax

To Bee or Not To Bee

Oh, Bee-have!

…There were many more puns where these came from.

Just 2 weeks ago, before my big Vermont race, I had a closer-to-home adventure.  My husband and I were headed to Peoria, IL to visit my brother’s family and his new baby (aww, Carson’s so cute!) and I figured as long as we were in the area, we should stop in and see my friends David and Jessica.   They invited us out to cycle on the Peoria River Trail, but David asked if first we’d like to come check out his backyard beehives!

David has 2 hives at the location I visited, and I don’t know what I imagined before I got there, but it certainly wasn’t as scary as I expected.  We walked up through a pasture where a couple of paint horses stood grazing, and back in a corner near some blackberry bushes were 2 small white boxes surrounded by a little fence (presumably to keep the horses from accidently getting too close.)  I imagined we’d have to put on full bee-suits to be anywhere near the hives, but that wasn’t really the case.

David adds a few puffs of smoke to the hive.

We walked up in our regular clothes to just outside the fence, maybe 3 feet from the hives.  The bees were visibly buzzing about, but didn’t seem real worried about what we were doing.  David gave me the top half of a bee-keeping suit and donned just a mask himself.  He took out a small bee smoker and explained how it worked.  There is basically a little can on one side of the smoker in which you put a bit of tinder.  David favors using some newspaper and dryer lint.  The tinder is lit, the lid is closed, and a couple of little pumps of the bellows is enough to let out a couple of gentle puffs of smoke.   The smoke simulates a forest fire and the bees are distracted into tasks like sucking up honey to move as they would have to if a real forest fire was in progress.  This task becomes more important than whatever the beekeeper is doing, so it basically keeps the bees occupied.

You can tell I’m still nervous here because my hands are tucked in the shirt!

I was still a little nervous walking up to the hive, so I tucked my hands inside the beekeeper’s suit and kept my arms down to my side (I worried that one would land on my side and then get crushed when I put my arms down and I’d get stung in the armpit… lol. Maybe I have an overactive imagination!)  Anyway, David puffed two or three little doses of smoke over the first hive and proceeded to take off the lid.

He explained that these hives were fairly new and contained a combination of frames that had starter material for the bees and blank frames that the bees would start building on themselves.   The starter frames are designed to encourage the bees to build vertical comb that can be easily lifted out for harvesting honey.   One of the maintence tasks David was there to do was to knock down any of the horizontal bridges the bees may have built between frames in order to keep the frames from being stuck together with comb.

He lifted the first frame out and I was surprised to see it heavy with bees.  I figured the whole hive suddenly going airborne would, ya know, startle them, but they kept right on working like nothing strange was going on.   David pointed out the structures they were making- some of the honeycomb was already filling up with honey and had “capped cells” on it, others were cells designed for bee larvae or pollen storage.  I got a little braver as he was pointing out structures and came close to watch what all of the bees were doing.

Bee box!

The hive was really fascinating.  The worker bees are all infertile females, and they were busy doing different jobs.  Some had large pouches of pollen collected on their legs, some were guarding the entrance to the hive, some were building honeycomb and some were headed out to the blackberry bushes.  We only spotted a few male drone bees in the hive; drones are identified by their larger eyes and somewhat stout appearance compared to the workers.  Did you know that male drones do not have stingers and are pretty much around just to mate with the Queen?  Then they die.  It’s a tough life.

David lifted out a few more frames, and finally we found the queen bee.  She was being followed around by a little cadre of workers that presumably took care of all her needs.  She was pretty easy to spot in this hive- she’d been marked with a little white dot on her back.  Besides, she was twice the size of any other bees there.

One of the neatest things I learned about the hive is that the bees maintain it at a pretty constant temperature around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees C.)  In hot weather, like the day we were there, the bees spread out and can even beat their wings to serve as a fan to cool the hive.  In the winter, the bees will gather to the center of the hive and form what’s called a “winter cluster” where they are basically bundled for heat conservation.  I also learned that a full frame covered in bees is quite heavy- when I finally worked up the nerve to hold one I was really shocked at the weight!

You can see the Queen in the lower left!

Anyway, because I couldn’t resist, I asked David if there was any honey ready to try.  He pointed some out and, like Winnie the Pooh, I stuck my paw in the comb and got out a little taste of honey.  The honey was aromatic, sweet and just plain delicious. I noticed that it had a sort of citrusy smell and David explained that this particular hive was ordered from an apiary (apiary= group of kept beehives) in Florida and was raised on orange blossoms!  The new honey the bees would be making might take on the flavor and aroma of the nearby blackberry bushes.

Beginner’s Bee Keeping Kit from Dadant and Sons

The take away from all of this is that honeybees are not as scary as I thought they were, that honey fresh from the comb is just plain awesome, and that backyard beekeeping is a really interesting hobby.  Honeybees are especially important in agricultural areas like Illinois and backyard beekeepers like David are helping to monitor for Colony Collapse Disorder and other diseases affecting these important pollinators.

There are many resources you can consult to learn more about backyard bee keeping, but I’d recommend checking out Dadant and Sons Company.  They’re based just 30 miles from Quincy in Hamilton, IL and are the oldest (since 1861!) and largest beekeeping supply company in the US.

And- because how many songs really talk about apiaries- I *had* to share my friend Pres Maxon’s song: Apiary in an Orange Grove (it’s the first track on his Vol. 1 album).  All his tunes are great and worth the download!

For lots more great pictures from David’s hives, click here!

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