Bees to HoneyNearing my father-in-law’s house, I was surrounded by a concrete jungle. Tax services, restaurants and shopping centers were closing in on me. I then turned the corner onto Cherry Street. This put me on a residential block. A man was walking his dog and a family with young children was returning home from an unknown adventure. Little did I know I was about to embark on a journey all my own.
Over twenty-years ago, my father-in-law, Lynn Cheatum, was helping a neighbor cut down a dead tree. In this dead tree was a colony of bees and a lot of honey. ” I was fascinated by it, ” Lynn said recalling the incident. He then began telling me how his curiosity of bees had always been there but he had never acted upon it. Lynn was still unable to act on this curiosity because one of his neighbors was violently allergic to bees. This neighbor had to get a shot once a month, just in case a bee stung him, so he wouldn’t die.
A few years later, in 1977, Lynn moved and was able to start his apiary, a place where you keep bees and their hives. He mail ordered his bees from Sears and Roebuck. Lynn remembers the bees came in a cage with a screen, similar to a window screen, on one side. The bees also had a supply of sugar water to keep them fed. The queen bee was separate from the other bees, the workers and the drones. The queen’s cage is about half the size of a package of cigarettes.
Worker bees are the female bees in the hive that collect the pollen and do the work to keep up the hive. The worker bees also protect the hive. After they sting an intruder, the bee dies. Drones are the male bees that do nothing but eat the honey and fly around trying to mate with the queen. Drones consist of about 1% of the bee population. After the drones mate with the queen they die. The Queen bee’s one job is to reproduce.
When Lynn’s bees arrived, he had everything he needed to begin the enjoyment of his apiary.
When asked what the best part of beekeeping was, he anxiously began to tell me that working with the bees was very exciting. To my wonderment he compared his interaction with the bees to petting a dog. This I was unable to understand. My experiences with bees were they were a nuisance always interrupting a picnic or a get together on the porch.
He also commented that being able to sell and give away his honey to his friends and family was also rewarding. Every Christmas my husband and I can count on having a big jar of delicious honey for a present.
I then inquired about the process of jarring honey. To my amazement he used the same process used to donate plasma. The honeycomb or blood is placed in a honey extractor or centrifuge. This container spins around throwing the honey out of the honeycomb or the plasma out of the blood. The honey then is placed in jars ready for eating and the plasma in bags ready to save lives.
Just then Lynn’s wife, Kris, entered the room. We began discussing how she too was very interested in the apiary. Kris recalls Lynn pausing while mowing the grass so he wouldn’t run over a bee. She thought this was a very caring act. She informed me that Lynn had bought her a suit for her birthday, the first year they were together. This allowed her to begin helping Lynn with the bees. Kris jokingly says, ” I married the bees.” This I could tell was a good thing. She concludes by telling me of her enjoyment while watching the bees from the kitchen window.
Curiously I asked about the scariest moment, if any, in bee keeping. Together they told the story.
In the summer of 1997 Lynn and Kris were moving a beehive. They both had their vale, a straw hat with netting around it, and gloves on. Kris also had her pant legs fastened with a rubberband, so that the bees were unable to get to her legs; Lynn did not take this precaution.
The beehive was newly assembled and the bees had not had time to use their propolis or bee glue to glue the two boxes together. The boxes slid a little from side to side making the bees angry.
“I could tell there was going to be hell to pay,” Lynn said remembering how the bees then began to sting him. He then remembers telling Kris they needed to get in the house. He started pulling out the remaining stingers when he began to get itchy all over, his hair, arms and legs. They later found this to be an anaphylactic reaction. An anaphylactic reaction is a case of hypersensitivity to the venom in an insect sting that produces sudden shock that can be fatal.
Kris looking very tenderly at her husband continues. She then told Lynn to go take a bath as she went to get baking soda for him. When she returned she found Lynn with his head down making a snorty sound, like he was having trouble breathing. Kris looking very tenderly at her husband continues; she explains she was scared to death and raced to dial 911. The fire-truck arrived first. Two burly firemen took Lynn out of the bathtub and laid him on a sheet. Lynn began to wake up. “Right away, I realized what the situation was, ” Lynn chimed in again.
Lynn had to stay overnight in the hospital because his blood pressure would not stabilize. While waiting for the doctor to come in, Kris counted the number of stings on his ankles, the final count was twenty-four. “That was pretty exciting,” Kris concludes.
Lynn then asked if I wanted to go and see the apiary. This was very intriguing to me. Walking out the backdoor I noticed two boxes to the left of a stack of firewood. On the ground, in front of these boxes were a couple dozen dead bees. I inquired about this to find out that a worker bee’s life span is about 3-4 weeks. I also found out that when a bee dies in the hive, the worker bees drag them out.
Lynn then proceeded to take the top of one the boxes off. This I admit was a little bit scary; I was fearful we might anger the bees and suffer the consequences of not being in the proper cloths. After taking off the lid, I observed about five rows of honeycomb. I was allowed to taste the honey right off the honeycomb; it had a much richer taste than store bought honey.
Bees continued to fly around us. One bee even landed on Lynn’s head. He acted as if this was normal, and explained he didn’t think it was going to sting him, it never did. I was thankful no bees landed on me. I do believe bee keeping would take a bit of getting used to.
After my observation of the bees and my interview with Lynn, I realized the bees also fascinated me. They are very interesting insects. I would definitely have to agree with Lynn when he said, “Too many people when they think about bee-keeping think about getting stung instead of how good honey tastes.”