April 4, 2010

Bees 101

Saturday my dad and I took a Bee 101 class through Urban Bounty, which sponsors a series of garden related classes in Portland. But before I get to all the cool stuff we learned .... Saturday night we went out with some friends and all of them asked what I was up to that day. To which I answered, "I took a class on raising bees." The responses I got were "Wow, you're brave." "Why would you raise bees?" "Aren't you worried about getting stung." Interesting, I was expecting responses like "Cool. Where are you going to keep them?"

Ok, back to the class. The first half was in a classroom with a powerpoint and demonstrations. The man, Glen, who taught the class, was obviously an expert. Every question asked was provided a very detailed answer. For example, someone asked about the worker bees and if they just spend all their time going out to get nectar and pollen. Glen said that there are actually a number of roles to play in the hive. The worker bees, all of which are female, each play one role. For example, one worker bee’s role may be to fly out and gather the nectar and pollen. She has two stomachs and stores a bit of the nectar in her second stomach, where some really scientific enzyme thing happens. When she returns to the hive she gives the nectar from her second stomach to a different worker bee, which puts the nectar in her own second stomach. Another scientific enzyme thing happens. She takes the nectar, which is now on its way to becoming honey, up inside the hive and deposits in the comb.

After lunch we went to Glen's houses in northeast Portland. It’s an older neighborhood and the houses all have small yards. Glen had 11 hives in his yard - 11. We got into a few of them. Normally, you would get into a hive on a nice warm day because most of the bees are out in the field and those in the hive are warm and happy and going about their work. However, Saturday was a cold, rainy, windy, nasty day. Very few bees were flying. Most were huddled together in the hive trying to keep warm. So when we came along and opened the hives, we really pissed them off.

Glen, of course, was in full beekeeper regalia (hood, jump suit, gloves) but the rest of us, about 30 people, were just in clothes and jackets. The angry bees buzzed around to check us all out. At one point I had about 20 bees on me. It did make me nervous - I was worried I would turn my head wrong or move my arm and squish a bee, which would sting me. So I just moved slowly. Out of the 30 people standing around in the cloud of angry bees for about an-hour-and-a-half, only one person got stung. (Interesting fact - male honeybees, called drones, don't have stingers at all.) Pretty amazing - thousands of angry bees, 30 people standing around and only one sting.

Our bees arrive Monday – I’m very excited!!!

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