Monday, August 4, 2014

Bee yard visit and maybe the best day of the summer

Today my post-doc, Thelma, and I got to go on an adventure and visit a honey bee yard. It's maybe a little embarrassing to say it was my first time seeing hives, maybe because you would assume entomologists get to see this stuff all the time. Well, not so much for this field crop bug girl. I did have a tiny bit of anxiety about the visit. Random questions to myself before the trip...

First thought: Am I going to freak out with all the buzzing and swarming? I imagined a deafening sound of a thousand bees landing on me and not sure if that was going to send me running back to the car.

Second thought: Am I going to get stung and by how many bees? Note: I hate being bit by mosquitoes, ticks or anything, really. My last bee sting swelled up substantially and I wasn't looking forward to a puffy welt.

Third thought: Am I going to get really sticky? I just had an idea of a bee hive being messy with dripping honey everywhere. Not sure why? Note: I don't really like to be covered with sugar.

Fourth thought: Am I going to sound like an idiot? I know I don't know anything about honey bees, but was very curious. Would I sound and look like a moron? You decide on my look!

Bee suits aren't very flattering, but I felt protected with the cool head gear!

Thelma and I arranged this meeting with Andy Joseph (IDALS State Apiculturist) and Robin Pruisner (IDALS State Entomologist). They took some time off from their usual jobs to look at a few hives east of Ankeny and talk about honey bees. They both personally own honey bees and have a lot of practical experience raising successful bees in Iowa.

The colorful boxes hold honey bee colonies. Each tower has it's own queen, workers, and drones.

Andy and Robin showed us various stages of brood and honey production. Rearing healthy and productive honey bees takes a lot of work. Plus it's like they were using another language to describe the process (my entomological background was only mildly helpful). It was also apparent that a beekeeper needs a bunch of specialized tools! The buzzing was surprisingly not bad. I didn't feel like they were out to get me, even though we were popping open "supers" and looking at their babies and potentially taking their food.

Andy lightly smokes the super before pulling out the frames. I almost sound like I know what I am talking about!

Andy typically only wears the hat with mesh veil. Obviously, he's been working with bees for a long time!

An example of a nicely progressing frame. The queen should start laying eggs in the middle and work her way around. Note the capped cells in the middle and pure honey in the upper right corner. 

They seemed to know right away if the bees were making the right pattern. It wasn't as obvious to an untrained eye. Some frames were very organized and others looked like they were created by bees with ADHD. We got to taste some honey straight from the hive. Woot! I am now officially a honey snob and I never EVER want to buy honey from a store again. 

Worker bees forage on pollen and nectar for the colony. Once their bellies are full, they pack extra pollen on their hind legs. Note the bright, yellow pollen balls on these ladies!

Entrance hole for foraging bees. Workers live for a few weeks after emerging from capped cells. 

Final thoughts: didn't freak out, didn't get stung, it wasn't sticky and I only kinda sounded ignorant. Overall, a great experience! I can't wait to visit again, perhaps during the honey extraction for an extra tasty adventure!

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