More bees with honey than vinegar

WARNING: This is another post that features a lot of photos of insects, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you may just want to keep scrolling.

My mother acquired an opportunity to go on a beekeeping tour, and I was lucky enough to be included in the adventure. The tour was given by one of our neighbors; he and his bees live less than a mile from our house.

We met at the Wissahickon Charter School, where there are four hives, and ten lucky students a year are selected for the beekeeping program.

Suiting up

Suiting up

I was given the “hook,” a metal spatula-cum-hook tool, first, and got to open the first hive, a Langstroth hive (as designed by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in the 1850s, in Philadelphia. If you’re curious, there are lots of nice diagrams available if you do a Google image search), so there are no pictures of that. It was cool, though, after I got the hang of levering up the frames.

A Langstroth hive, with top (and upper levels) removed.

A Langstroth hive, with top (and upper levels) removed.

After a bit, I yielded up the hook to my mother, and took over photography, instead.

Mom holding up one frame.

Mom holding up one frame.

Did I mention that my bus home goes by this place every day? I never even knew that there were beehives there, though I think that they may be visible from the road, if you know where to look.

This frame is not very "built up," so what you're seeing is a shaped piece of wax that can be put into the frame as a guide.

This frame is not very “built up,” so what you’re seeing is a shaped piece of wax that can be put into the frame as a guide.

Mom got stung, probably through sheer bad luck, but luckily she’s not remotely allergic to bee stings. She had the distinction of being the first person to get stung this year working those hives, but I think it’s an honor she would have forgone.

I believe that two of the bees slightly to the left of the center of this picture are drone bees -- males -- unlike the rest, which are workers, and female.  The drones are a little bit bigger, and their eyes are bigger, too.

I believe that two of the bees slightly to the left of the center of this picture are drone bees — males — unlike the rest, which are workers, and female. The drones are a little bit bigger, and their eyes are bigger, too.

After looking at three Langstroth hives, and seeing lots of bees, but not as many eggs or larvae as expected, we opened up the fourth hive, an experimental design.

The top bars, which the bees build comb on, are sharply triangular, unlike a top bar hive, which you'll see later.

The top bars, which the bees build comb on, are sharply triangular, unlike a top bar hive, which you’ll see later.

This style of hive design doesn’t use any guide wax; the bees just go for it and start building. They can start in more than one spot, and the cells will line up perfectly.

Some of the cells in the center of this picture are filled with larvae, slightly yellowish coiled grubs, and if I zoom in very close to the center-left of the picture, I can see little white dots that I think are eggs.

Some of the cells in the center of this picture are filled with larvae, slightly yellowish coiled grubs, and if I zoom in very close to the center-left of the picture, I can see little white dots that I think are eggs.

Our guide Matt got stung, too, and the bees were becoming agitated, so we packed up.

Putting the lid back on

Putting the lid back on

We all shucked out of our protective gear, drank lots of water, and headed over to Matt’s house to see some top bar hives.

A top bar hive with legs.  There were two more without legs.  This one belongs to Matt's daughter, who's ten.  He was careful to point out his state-of-the-art hive covers.

A top bar hive with legs. There were two more without legs. This one belongs to Matt’s daughter, who’s ten. He was careful to point out his state-of-the-art hive covers.

We all arranged ourselves on the roof of the shed, and cracked open the first of the hives.

The first one wasn't as neat, and there were a few places where the comb was coming away from its rows.  Of course, the cool thing about beeswax is that you can often just shove it back into place (carefully!) and the bees will stick it back on and make everything shipshape.

The first one wasn’t as neat, and there were a few places where the comb was coming away from its rows. Of course, the cool thing about beeswax is that you can often just shove it back into place (carefully!) and the bees will stick it back on and make everything shipshape.

The first hive was “irreparably queenless” — a worker bee can lay eggs and take on some of the role of the queen, but the eggs are unfertilized, and only drones will hatch from them. Sometimes if fertilized eggs are introduced into the hive, the hive can raise a new queen, but this one wasn’t managing to do so. The second seemed to be thriving, and we saw eggs and larvae, but no queen. So we moved on to the third hive.

On the left, you can see the edge of the smoker, to slow the bees down.  There were a lot of smoking jokes throughout the afternoon.

On the left, you can see the edge of the smoker, to slow the bees down. There were a lot of smoking jokes throughout the afternoon.

The cells in the upper right of this comb contain honey; you can tell by the flakey white wax covering.  Bees put honey on top, for insulation.

The cells in the upper right of this comb contain honey; you can tell by the flakey white wax covering. Bees put honey on top, for insulation.

Worker brood -- sealed cells with developing larvae inside.  The darker cells are starting to be filled with nectar, and the leftmost bee has just hatched.

Worker brood — sealed cells with developing larvae inside. The darker cells are starting to be filled with nectar, and the leftmost bee has just hatched.

Of course, sometimes things get a little twisted around.  If you didn't see the larvae before, look closely at the edge in the center-left of the picture.

Of course, sometimes things get a little twisted around. If you didn’t see the larvae before, look closely at the edge in the center-left of the picture.

Bees create their own plumb line by hanging onto each others' legs and dangling, in a process called "festooning."

Bees create their own plumb line by hanging onto each others’ legs and dangling, in a process called “festooning.”

In our continuing search for a queen, we came across numerous queen cells, larger cells that hang pendant from the rest of the comb.

These are empty; you can tell by the hole in the bottom.

These are empty; you can tell by the hole in the bottom.

Sellers will often mark queen bees with a red dot, to make them easy to spot.

And then, at last we found her!

And then, at last we found her!

We quickly put that bar back in with the others, to keep the queen safe and secure.

After the tour, we had a honey tasting.

After the tour, we had a honey tasting.

I’ve now tasted honey from Dubai, and also eucalyptus honey.

Our host and his father-in-law.

Our host and his father-in-law.

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