S has been eager to check on his hives, but things have been so busy, he has been unable.  Our daily checks involved making sure they were flying in and out of the hives on nice weather days, and that was pretty much it.  Finally, this weekend, he decided to suit up in full bee suit, hat, and gloves, and go in.  Of course, his little boy wouldn’t be left out, so we suited JR up in an oversized bee keeper’s hat with arm holes and a set of gloves, in the hopes the bees wouldn’t be too vicious. 

S has spent the last couple weeks reading about bees everytime he had an opportunity, in the hopes he would be able to figure things out.  He wasn’t sure what to expect, so he told JR to stand back a bit, and pried open the first hive.

They were thrilled to see the trays were all packed with sealed honey comb for the winter….the sign of a good, healthy hive.  They couldn’t find the queen, but didn’t go any lower than the top super since the bees were starting to get riled up.  They also found very few drones, as most of them have already been cast out for the winter

Hey, did you know a drone (male bee) develops from an UNfertilized egg, and workers (female bees) come from fertilized eggs?  The queen controls which eggs get fertilized and which don’t.  A drone’s sole purpose is to fertilize a new queen, then he dies.   A queen breeds only once in her life, and then stores the…umm…seed for the rest of her life.  Workers will later determine if they want to develop one of the female eggs into a new replacement queen.  Any drones remaining as winter approaches get tossed out of the hive to fend for themselves (aka die in the first cold snap).  I’d hate to be a guy in the bee world!!  Only something like one in a thousand even get the privilege of breeding a queen once in his life! 

So back to bee keeping….S liked the looks of his first hive, then moved on to the second.  As he pried it open, and began inspecting, JR realized a bee or two had somehow gotten up inside his netting, and were buzzing around his head.  Dad calmly told him to just walk carefully to me (I was outside the area observing).  As he approached, I kept reminding him to stay calm, move slowly, and walk to me.  I gave him calm instructions as we slowly unpeeled his netting, and then counted as 1,2,3,4,5!!  bees flew out of his helmet!  I couldn’t believe it!  Not a single sting, JR never panicked, the bees never got upset, and the whole situation ended as smoothly as it could.  I was amazed!  I also had a new appreciation for calm, easy-going honey bees.   As it turned out, JR wasn’t finished.  He wanted to suit back up and return to dad.  I discovered the source of the bees entry into his outfit, and sealed that up, and JR went back to learning how to be a bee-keeper. 

By this point, S was re-assembling hive #2, and preparing to check hive #3.  The seller had warned him that the hive seemed more aggressive for some reason, so S made JR hang back for the inspection.  Sure enough, as soon as he took off the cover, bees were aggressively flying up and banging against S’s head cover.  This was obviously a hive that will need the smoker to remove honey next year!

Then, he felt the crawling.  A bee had gotten inside his suit.  Remembering JR’s experience, he just stayed calm, re-assembled the hive, and prepared to leave.  Then, another bee started crawling up his bare leg.  Then one of them fell down into his boot, and he knew he was in trouble, as it was trapped. 

“OUCH!”  he yelped, as one of the bees ensured it’s presence was known.

As quickly and smoothly as he could, he finished everything up, and headed out toward us.  Bees from the last hive were buzzing all around him, and he had to walk about 100 feet before they began leaving him alone.  When he finally got to us, he quickly took off his suit.  He then proceeded to give the kids a demo on removing stingers from skin…

Did you know a honey bee’s sting venom is known to be far less toxic than a hornet, yellow-jacket, or other type of stinging insect?  It (supposedly) hurts far less, and causes fewer allergic reactions than the others.  Another fact….once a honey bee stings, it will die.  The stinger is attached to its’ body, so it only uses it if it truly feels a need to defend.  When it stings, it actually breaks off, exposing the insides of the bee, thereby causing the death of the bee.  The problem here is that a worker bee won’t think twice about giving her life to defend the colony!

We discovered his suit had a hole in the side, which was the source of those bees getting in and getting stuck.  He found one of the dying bees, removed it from his boot, and it promptly flew over to M’s dress, where it landed.  After assuring M that it couldn’t sting her (its guts were actually hanging out), M took an interest in observing it up close.  She held it, touched it, let it crawl on her dress, and became quite comfortable with it. 

So, we learned a few things about a bee-keeping….First, make sure suits are sealed.  Bees find their way into the smallest holes.  Second, they don’t like the plastic frame foundations, but seem to love the more natural wooden ones.  Our plastic ones had very little honey comb on them (and even then, likely because the wooden ones were full).  Finally, we need to consider getting a new queen for hive #3.  A calmer queen will breed to produce calmer workers genetically.  Hive #3 is too aggressive for my liking, particularly with all our young children.

There you have it.  There are lessons to be found in everything, including keeping bees.