Partied with fomer work colleagues the other night, some of whom I haven’t seen in over a decade. Laughed heartily, exchanged kid pics, reminisced about our times working together, and caught up on all that’s new in our lives. One friend (who shall remain nameless per her request-from this point on she will be referred to as Honey)
entertained the crowd with stories about her newest hobby- beekeeping! “Bee”ing in the healthcare industry for years, Honey is naturally concerned about the health and well-”bee”ing of her family. Learning that there are only three natural sugars on earth- honey “bee”ing one of them- Honey decided that she wanted to experience the thrill of harvesting that rich golden liquid right in her own back yard. And she is not alone. Apparently there is a hidden colony of beekeepers right here in the Boston area. Propogated by the woman she referred to as the “crazy bee lady” in Lexington, these are regular folk who want to experience the pure taste of “home-grown” honey. Her teenage children were naturally mortified, watching her build the apiary, poring through bee catalogs, fearing their mom had lost her mind. Started talking about it at school, and soon discovered that many of their teachers also were closet bee-keepers! Even the Verizon repair guy offered her a full-length jump suit when he spotted her bee hotel in the yard- now that’s full service TV repair!
Now, I know nothing of bee-keeping other than watching Queen Latifah educating Dakota Fanning in The Secret Life Of Bees, so a little research was in order. A glossary of bee-keeping terms for your educational well-”bee”ing:
Beekeeping: (or apiculture, from Latin apis, bee) is the maintenance of honey bee colonies, commonly in hives, by humans. A beekeeper (or apiarist) keeps bees in order to collect honey and other products of the hive (including beeswax, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly), to pollinate crops, or to produce bees for sale to other beekeepers.
Honey: a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans. Honey bees transform nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation (yup, that’s right, it’s their vomit they produce to feed their young) and store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive. Beekeeping practices encourage overproduction of honey so the excess can be taken from the colony
Italian Bees: The Italian honey bee is thought to originate from the continental part of Italy, South of the Alps, and North of Sicily. This is the kinder, gentler of the honey bees and widely used in this area. Bellissimo!
Russian Bees: The Russian honeybee refers to honey bees (Apis mellifera) that originate in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia. This strain of bee was imported into the United States in 1997 by the USDA‘s Honeybee Breeding, Genetics & Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in response to severe declines in bee populations caused by infestations of parasitic mites, and have been used in breeding programs to improve existing stocks. According to Honey, they are more hostile than the Ialians (there is a joke in there somewhere, but in the interest of “bee”ing politically correct, I’ll pass : )
Bee Smoker: simply called a smoker, is a device used in beekeeping to calm honey bees. It is designed to generate smoke from the smouldering of various fuels, hence the name. Honey reports that when you smoke your apiary, the bees think there is a fire, and all drop to the bottom of the box, so that she can harvest the honey above.
Beekeepers Suit: Consisting of screened hood, gloves, jumpsuit- essentially covering every part of exposed skin. Used to protect the human from sustaining stings while harvesting or tending to their colony. Remember, bee stings can result in anaphylactic shock, when untreated, could be fatal. I think, for me, Market Basket might be a less deadly source of honey…
Nectar: a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants. It is produced in glands called nectaries, within the flowers, in which it attracts pollinating animals. Common nectar-consuming pollinators include bees, butterflies and moths, hummingbirds and bats. Nectar is an ecologically important item, the sugar source for honey.
Queen Bee: typically refers to an adult, mated female that lives in a honey bee colony or hive; she is usually the mother of most, if not all, the bees in the hive. The queens are developed from larvae selected by worker bees and specially fed in order to become sexually mature. There is normally only one adult, mated queen in a hive. Honey says when the colony shipment arrived, the queen was in her own suite, and marked with a big dot on her head-perhaps a nod to the Queen Elizabeth’s penchant for fashionable headgear?
Drones: male honey bees. They develop from eggs that have not been fertilized, and they cannot sting, since the worker bee’s stinger is a modified ovipositor (an egg laying organ). Apparently they just hang around and impregnate the queen.
Worker Bees: Workers leave the hive daily, gathering pollen into the pollen baskets on their back legs, to carry back to the hive where it is used as food for the developing brood. Pollen carried on their bodies may be carried to another flower where a small portion can rub off onto the pistil, resulting in cross pollination. Almost all of civilization’s food supply (maize is a noteworthy exception) depends greatly on crop pollination by honey bees, whether directly eaten or used as forage crops for animals that produce milk and meat. Nectar is sucked up through the proboscis, mixed with enzymes in the stomach, and carried back to the hive, where it is stored in wax cells and evaporated into honey.
If, after reading this, you are interested in starting your own bee colony, this is a great DIY tutorial from The Daily Green at Good Housekeeping. Of course, you can’t go into your local Walmart to pick up supplies, but there are loads of online resources for purchasing and maintaining your bee colony. Honey purchased hers from Georgia- I imagine southern bees to be a kinder, more gracious bee? And she also promised a freshly-harvested jar of the liquid gold come September. Her 20,000-strong colony should produce 1-2 gallons!!
Now that’s something to “bee” excited about!! Enjoy your “Bee-autiful day! Susan