Friday, July 17, 2009

The Birds and the BEES

"An advanced lesson- but less about the birds and more about the BEES!"
-The Honey Man ♥
I found myself one day last month with a Bee Keeper.

Not just any bee keeper... the "Honey Man" is a dear family friend who invited me to join him while he drove from one farm to another to check on his Apiary's (bee hives). He was preparing to gather honey.

I have known this particular bee keeper, "Mr. Tom", for over 20 years and we are related distantly by marriage. We spend time together almost every summer, and I normally see him during the Christmas holidays too. Well into his 70's- he's wise, careful, energetic, thoughtful, funny, and I've always admired his enthusiasm for life. Needless to say, I was impressed when he began telling me about his adventures in bee keeping a few years ago, and I indicated I would like to see his operation.
My request was granted one day in June.

Now first let me say that I am not particularly frightened of bees, although I have a "healthy" fear of them...they do have stingers after all. Some people are terrified of the little buzzing creatures, but I'm not. Snakes are a different story.
The 45 minute drive to Mr. Tom's house was gorgeous. The landscape was of green fields full of corn, soybeans, and tobacco. Loblolly pines, Mimosas, Oak , Hickory, and Elm trees stand together undisturbed on the edges of the growing fields. I always marvel of the breathtaking beauty of North Carolina near the peak of summer. Cool streams, gorgeous blue skies, stately trees whose age I can only guess, and bountiful crops which bear the fruit (and veggies) of the labor of men. I wondered "Could heaven be more lovely than this?"
Upon arrival we wasted no time going to the first set of Bee Hives.

This is not the actual Bee Hive, my camera died, but this looks almost exactly like the ones we were dealing with!

Under a shady grove of trees, with no extra apparel (meaning no hat, no gloves, no mesh protection of any kind) Mr. Tom set about the delicate task of taking the lid off the first hive, with his smoker in hand, and began inspecting it. Within a distance of 60 feet or so there were 4 active hives and at any given moment we were surrounded by no less than 300 bees flying around, but none seemed interested in what we were up to.

Mr Tom moved with confidence and skill. At no time did he flinch when a bee landed on him. He simply brushed it away and continued on with his work of checking the Super and pulling out the wooden slats inside to check the honey and to see if it was properly sealed. Honey which is completely sealed by the bees will last over 100 years (or more) and never spoil.

It was an amazing process. He showed me what the baby drones looked like, and the difference between them and the worker bees. The worker bees are all female, the drones are all males and their only job is to mate with the Queen. Wonder of wonders, he was even able to show me the Queen in one hive which is usually difficult to do. Even I, a lay person in such matters, was able to spot her when he pulled out the slat she was on. I took it as a good sign.

The average hive has 5,000 to 20,000 bees inside! When the smoke is pumped into the hive the bees make a sound akin to a massive vibration. It's hard to describe the sound, but it's not a noise I will ever forget. The smoke is meant to calm the bees, which it does, but the noise they make made me wonder if we wouldn't get swarmed, but alas, we did not.

I stood next to Mr. Tom most of the time. His confidence boosted my own and before I knew it I was helping him smoke the bees, inspecting the honey slats, and over all having a remarkable hands on learning experience. A few bees landed on me and I simply brushed them away.

The last 2 or 3 hives we visited were on another piece of land up the road a mile or 2. These bee hives were in direct sunlight and the bees seemed to be a tad more aggressive than the ones we had been dealing with earlier. No matter, the Honey Man and I moved in, got the smoker ready, and began inspecting the hives.

I was fearless. I was helping. Then the owner of the property arrived with his wife to see how things were going. They kept their distance, noting their fear of being stung. I just smiled and said. "Thing were going well so far!"

Within a few minutes of my confident statement the Honey Man was stung on the ear! He pulled out a can of "Hot Shot Wasp Spray" from the back of his truck and sprayed the tip of his ear after I removed the stinger. I'm not sure what's in "Hot Shot" that takes the sting out, but it seemed to work. Mr. Tom barely paused before returning to the hive, and I returned with him.

Unfortunately a few minutes later one little bee got a tad too friendly under the brim of my visor, and as I tried to brush him away-
He stung me...right on the tip of my nose!

Needless to say it must have seemed like I was praying because the first words out of my mouth were, "Jesus! It stung me!!!" The pain was unlike anything I ever expected. My eyes began to water profusely, and while I wanted to rub my nose, (which was also watering!) the stinger had to be removed first, which the Honey Man did very quickly. Next he grabbed his can of Hot Shot- and my first thought was "Wait, I have asthma...what's in that can of chemicals?"- but honestly at that moment I'd have let him douse me in toxic waste if it would help the pain.

He sprayed some of the foam on his fingertips, graciously, and applied it to my nose. It did help. I don't recommend anyone using the stuff on their face, but it helped- what else can I say?

It took about 10 minutes for the awful throbbing in my nose, and for my eyes to stop running (NO, I was not crying! :), but as soon as I could see clearly again I went right back to the hive of the offending bee (but this time with the mesh hat on) and finished helping with the job at hand.

I figured if you have to get back on a horse as soon as you fall off of it, the same must be true of handling bees...mindful that I've never been stung by a horse before!
Aside from a minor headache and funny numbly feeling in my upper gums, I was fine. I couldn't even tell where I had been stung, but trust me, I could feel it!

Of course the reward came later the next week when I went back to Oxford to help process the honey from the comb, which was a sweeter and less dangerous adventure, but an adventure all the same. From all the hives Mr. Tom owns or operates he gathered several gallons of honey, which he sells for $10.00 a pint, and I assure you it's worth every cent! It's even worth getting stung, but I'm probably the only one who thinks so! :)

As you can see, from a photo of me at the beach the following week, my nose is fine.

And if you want some honey- send me an email, I know exactly where to get it :)


Bad Bob said...

I'm glad to see you are back writing after the surgery. I was wondering since it has been a bit since you've checked in...
Did you find out about the Hot Shot Wasp spray? It does not sound too healthy, but I guess it's ok as I was envisioning something more like a clown nose.

Skunkfeathers said...

A bee-dazzling account of beekeeping in action ;) And a honey of a photo ;)

Helene said...

You look nice and tan!

My neighbor started keeping bees this spring... 2 hives. Its really neat to learn all about them. They are amazing creatures! I am not a huge fan of honey though!

Hope you are having a good weekend (and feeling well)! I am off to get my daughter from the airport in 3o minutes! I cant wait!!!

/t. said...

beautiful mayden
you are sweet as honey
your account of the great bee adventure is wonderfully entertaining, as always

i love honey :)

¤ ¤ ¤


Libby said...

cora, i always love to hear you tell a real-life story...i have the feeling that even if it was going to have a sad ending, you'd have us laughing all the way to it!!

NYD said...

What a cool experience! You are pretty fortunate to know someone like Mr. Tom.

Did he offer you any insights as to what he thinks is the reason for the dissapearence of honey bees all around the world?

dianne said...

What an interesting experience to see all of that Mayden... those beekeepers (apiarists) are fearless how they are swarmed with bees and just brush them off.
I must say you are pretty brave yourself, very hands on; I'm sorry you got stung on your pretty little nose OUCH! of all the the places to get stung...and they do really hurt.♡

Mayden' s Voyage said...

Bad Bob- yep- I thought I'd have a clown nose too :) I couldn't find any info on why Hot Shot is supposed to work on bee stings- and I don't like it on my face, but the truth is it seemed to work and the Honey Man swears by it!

Skunk- thank you :) You are such a good friend! :)

Helene- Wow!!! I know she had a blast and I can not wait to hear all about her trip. I will call you this week- and thank you :) I'm feeling pretty good- not quite up to speed (I seem to tire easy), but almost back to normal :)

/t- when I find a proper box to put a jar of honey in, I will let you know :) Hugs and lovely to see you, as always! :)

Libby- Thank you- your encouraging words always give me hope for being published again. I admit I need to be more focused on it. Hugs and thank you for being here. I think I still have your address too! ;)

NYD- I will ask him when I see him again about the decline in bees. I know he is very careful to leave almost half of the honey he collects for the bees, as well as leaves the honey trays (after they've been spun out) for the bees to eat. The bees will completely remove every bit of honey off the trays, supers, and the buckets that have honey residue. Mr. Tom also uses trays for the hives with a honey comb intact from last year and this makes the bee's job much easier. From what I can tell Mr. Tom's operation is about as enviromentally and Bee friendly as any I've seen or read about. As for seeing a decline in person, I can't really say...there were thousands of bees where I was :)

Diane~ hugs! You are so sweet as the honey we found! It was a wonderful experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

/t. said...

but i didn't mean
you go to any trouble,
mayden -- we have lovely fresh
honey here from our local farmers

(thanks, tho) <3

only meant to say that i share your sweet tooth :)

¤ ¤ ¤


Mayden' s Voyage said...

My dear /t- lol...I know what you meant :) And you have to know that whenever I make something sweet I always think of you :)

foam said...

i always buy local honey too ..
wonderfull stuff!
i've been to bee farms but have never had the wonderful hands on experience that you have had.
maybe you can start your own hives?

X. Dell said...

I'm more annoyed by bees than afraid of them. Nevertheless, I keep my distance from them.

Sorry to hear one got you on he nose. Quite a difficult choice, huh, the pain or the mystery chemical. Seems like you made the right one.

The Phosgene Kid said...

look a little red, might want to get out of the sun!!!

Nothing like fresh honey - my uncle knew someone and brought us the best honey I ever had...