Bees A Buzzin’

Across the driveway from Pop’s big farmhouse stood the smoke-house, several utility sheds, the hen house, and the pig pens.  Behind those were the orchard and the humming bee hives, of which Pop was very solicitous.  Each tree in the orchard had been planted by Pop.  There were mostly peach trees, but a few apple, plum and pear trees too.  Early each Spring Pop carefully pruned the trees so they would give the most fruit.  Many a tree in that orchard had several kinds of fruit varities on it, the result of grafting that Pop had experimented with.  He was always gathering trees and bringing them home to put in different places around the farm.  The bees were kept to pollinate the trees and make honey which was used as a sweetener by the family.  In good years there was often enough honey to sell.

The children were always fascinated by the honey-gathering process.  One of the uncles would put on a long-sleeve shirt, and a hat over which a big net would be draped to protect his face and shoulders.  It was the uncle’s job to carry the buckets.  Pop, in his short-sleeves and bare, nearly bald head, would light a smoker gun and apply it to the front of a hive.  Warm smoke from the gun would make the bees drowsy enough for the two men to then lift the top from the square wooden hive and pull out the slatted frames on which the bees had built honey combs.

The bees were familiar with Pop and he was always calm around them, so he was never stung.  The bees would climb up and down his bare arms, on his face, on his exposed head and even down his neck and he wouldn’t be stung.  It seemed each bee knew him personally and held no grudge against his intrusion into their home.

A taste of sticky, dripping honey was a real treat for a little girl watching in rapt attention, and it was fun to chew a bit of the waxy comb.  Not much of the comb was allowed for chewing though because it was always set aside for making candles.  The honey that was collected would be poured through a sieve after collection, to take out any dirt or parts of bee bodies that might be caught up in it.  The worker bees in each hive were workers, hard workers, and their lifespan was short.  The collected honey would be stored in big glass jars that went down into the cool root cellar beneather the kitchen floor.  Pop was always careful to leave enough honey in each hive for the bees to eat during the cold months of the year.  After gathering the honey, he would carefully check each hive for sign of ants, and then close up the hives.  He then gently placed the hives in a location where they would be close to an ample source of pollen.

Sometimes ants would invade a hive and there would be a regular war, pitting rapacious ants against angry bees.  It was the job of the worker bees to protect the hive.  When such an invasion occurred, Pop would have to empty the hive.  He would hopefully be able to rescue the queen bee, her eggs and larvae, and some worker bees which might have survived the hungry ant horde, and then place the lucky survivors in a new hive.  Enough honey would be put in that hive to keep them going.  Then their old hive, which would be a scene of insectivore carnage, would be washed with boiling and mild antiseptic.  After that hive was carefully and thoroughly dried in sunshine it would be set aside for use at another time.  Most often it would become the new home for a swarm of bees which Pop would collect from someplace in the orchard.  More later about such a swarm, and the painful, nearly fatal lesson it taught a little girl and her younger brother!

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