Back in August, I had mentioned that I was interested in perhaps learning more about beekeeping as a hobby (read that post). Well I signed up for a beekeeping class and it started this past Thursday night!
The Group Dynamics
I am a people watcher. As people started filtering in, there is always that anticipation (dare I say “apprehension”) of “who will sit next to me”. Just like high school! Does it ever get easier? I think people purposely avoid this trauma by coming in later. I was happy to see one familiar face — a person I had met from a beekeeping demonstration last year, put on by the parks department, where we were able to volunteer to staff various workstations that demonstrated the harvesting and packaging of honey. We were newbies at the same station that got an opportunity to cut the honey comb, put it into jars and fill with honey.
I was surprised at how many women are in the class – six, including me, out of 15 total. One young girl looks to be in her early 20′s. Two others, who came in together and are obviously friends, appear to be in their 40′s. The other two women are more my age.
Nobody talks to anyone, at first. Things start to warm up as the class progresses, in little ways. As handouts are distributed, the woman across from me starts to individually hand copies to me before passing on the bundle. I start doing the same to her as it comes my way first. I ask a question of the instructors. I hear a couple of the men “laugh at my question” – the gist of which stated that I was not interested in the honey, just the bees, and wanted to know if there was some of the equipment I could do without. The man next to me says that he is there for the same reason, to make me feel better. That broke the ice. There was an actual exchange of words! From then on, I learned that the man, Glenn, (who has the same name as a famous band leader from the 40′s) is a “master gardener” and wants the bees to pollenate his flowers. The paper-passing lady turns out to be a “master gardener” also and recognizes Glenn.
I find out that Glenn got his first bees last spring and he is worried about them making it through this winter. We had just learned in class that when it is a cold winter, the bees are less active in their hives and do not eat as much of their reserves. But since this winter was so mild, the bees are more active and the hive is in jeopardy of starving because they are eating more of it.
Glenn was especially worried about this because he had just gotten his hives formally inspected and the “official report” said his hives were especially “light” (i.e. less weight due to lack of honey).
Terry, one of the instructors, had a solution. She suggested making some “fondant” (fancy, rolled-out cake icing) and to lay it in the hive to supplement the bees’ food. Glenn was not familiar with “fondant” and had a hard time picturing icing that was not spreadable.
Bill is our main instructor – a retired teacher who spent the summers, when he was working back in the 70′s, as a bee hive inspector for the county. Terry said Bill has 35 bee hives. She has 20. I am duly impressed.
What I Learned In This Class
I won’t document everything I learned, but some things are interesting things to relate:
- The bee egg hatches three days after it is laid and the larva feeds for around nine days before the cell is capped and the larva pupates. Total development time is 16 days for a queen, 21 days for a worker, and 24 days for a drone.
- Most of today’s bees are “Italian” bees, which are more docile in nature. If your hive tends to be more aggressive, then you remedy this by cutting the head off the queen bee. The colony “knows” to make another queen bee and the hive’s characteristics will be reshaped by her offspring.
- The threat to honey bees is real. The culprit is American foulbrood (AFB), caused by the spore-forming Paenibacillus larvae — a rod-shaped bacterium, which is visible only under a high power microscope. Bee larvae up to 3 days old become infected by ingesting spores that are present in their food. Young larvae less than 24 hours old are most susceptible to infection. Spores germinate in the gut of the larva and the vegetative form of the bacteria begins to grow, taking its nourishment from the larva. Spores will not germinate in larvae over 3 days old. Infected larvae normally die after their cell is sealed. The vegetative form of the bacterium will die but not before it produces many millions of spores. Each dead larva may contain as many as 100 million spores. This disease only affects the bee larvae but is highly infectious and deadly to bee brood. Infected larvae darken and die.
I am looking forward to the next class.