If Winnie the Pooh could be anything in the world, I’d count on him choosing a profession in beekeeping. This Saturday, I had the chance to, [in the wise words of Barney Stinson] Bee Suit Up! Round Rock Honey Company, headquartered in Texas, offers a year-round beekeeping class in California, Texas, and Wisconsin. The seester brought me along to one of their classes located in the heart of San Francisco. Who knew that in the concrete jungle of downtown, there would bee (wink*) hives on the rooftop of Glide Memorial Church? Two to be exact. But, beekeeping is surprisingly more common in this city than one would think. There are associations all over the bay area that people join and if you’re lucky, someone might post up info about a free swarm of bees looking for a new home. Free-bees!
With the bee population dwindling from pesticides and the increasing numbers of cell phone towers, the beekeeping class is a great introduction to help the bee population and educating anyone interested in starting up their own hive. For people who are scared of bees or creepy crawlies in general, (read: me), it’s kind of surreal and a quite fascinating experience. I definitely had a small freak out moment when I felt surrounded by bees flying everywhere. Our class lasted around two and a half hours, and included an overview about bees, what you need to get started, all the materials and resources involved,what it takes to maintain a hive, and finally suiting up to visit the hives.
Our beekeeping instructor, Mark, was passionate (to say the least) about bees. For someone afraid of bugs, I really felt like his overview was necessary for me to see the bigger picture of what their short little lives are all about (gathering food, cleaning, and protecting their colony). Not to mention, their existence is so very vital to our global agriculture. For worker bees, it’s their job to clean, collect nectar, and protect their hive. It’s pretty amazing and just a little bit sad. Most people already know this, but when worker bees are protecting their hive, feel threatened, and use their stinger, it’s embedded into whatever they’ve stung, so they lose their limb and die. What I learned though, is that the toxin from their stinger emits a pheromone that acts like a beacon to all the other bees to go to the same location to sting. Lesson learned. Remove the stinger asap!
It’s not a great life for the drones either. They seem a bit lazy since they neither clean nor collect nectar.. but, well, they die similarly (minus the protecting the hive part and more about having the s.e.x and preventing others from mating *whispers* THE “STINGER” IN THIS CASE IS THEIR PENIS.)
I feel like I have so much knowledge about bees that I would love to impart on you, but instead I think everyone needs to take this class because it really is fascinating. I might never have my own hive, but if someone where to ask me to suit up and hold a frame of bees. I’m totally down. Well, in exchange for honey. Not only is it a healthier sweetener, but it’s great for dealing with local pollen allergies. [insert sneeze here] They do fly within a 3 mile radius, so the honey they make is local down to the zip code! We were also taught how to tell the difference between worker and drone, check for healthy larvae (ew..), and even check for a specific parasite that is sometimes common in a hive. (Imagine a dungeness crab attached to your back.. insane!) After all the nitty gritty.. we were ready..
BEE SUITED UP!!!
To calm these guys and cover up any angry pheromone communication signals they might send out when their hive is disturbed/moved, smoke is sprayed around. This also makes them think a fire is near, so they start drinking lots of honey and get all slow and clumsy – what I now refer to as Winnie the Pooh’d out. During this whole process I started feeling a bit claustrophobic. The suit has a netted head area, but it still felt like the bees were just everywhere. Once I stopped freaking out internally, which probably lasted for a minute (generally my curiosity > my fear), I was able to hold up a frame.
Fortunately, being suited up meant some fat yellow gloves that protected my delicate hands from being stung. Unfortunately, this also meant using a cell phone to take pictures would be ridiculously difficult. So, apologies for unfocused photos. Actually, SORRYIMNOTSORRY.. Bees were landing on me, and I didn’t Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man = Success.
Oh, there I am! Hello there..
So, holding the frames and having bees land on me was quite exciting, but the not so great part was somewhat sad and gross. When we were handing off frames to other people, I saw a bee get crushed (in half). It also happens when they put the frames and the supers (layer that the frame goes inside) back in place. Ugh.. *shivers.. poor thing. I don’t even like bugs, and I felt so sad for it. But, it happens, and just look at how amazing they are. I couldn’t have had a better experience. Oh, and, that honey. So good. Will I be keeping bees after this class? Probably not. This was a great hands-on learning experience (and it’s ok for children 7 and up)! From people like me, who just love honey, to those who are adventurous and actually have the space, resources, and the interest in keeping their own bees, it’s great for everyone. Mark was really knowledgeable and people brought up some good questions since there were a few who attended that wanted to start a hive. So, if you’re thinking about keeping your own bees = your own unlimited supply of honey, think about taking this class. Thanks Round Rock Honey Co.!
Image: “Camouflage” by Jean-Sebastian Deheeger
My photo set!