You’ve got to read this and see what all this ‘bee happy’ excitement is about! But before you do – have you ever wanted to stroke a bee? When I was younger I’d run a mile in the other direction from a bee. But once I had my own kids I had to overcome my fear of anything that buzzes. Nowadays I photograph bees – and get the odd sting. I love bees and photography changed my relationship with bees forever. Every year I have at least 1 wild nest in the garden. You’ll usually find me sitting nearby with a cup of coffee listening to them hum and watching them go in and out of the hive entrance. But this weekend I was very Bee Happy as I had the opportunity of a lifetime!
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While working at Gardening Scotland I got to dress up! All thanks to Ayr Beekeepers and their open hive demonstration which was next to our Dobbies marquee. I might have looked like an astronaut on one of the hottest lunchtimes of the year so far – but I didn’t care. I was going to get up close and very personal with thousands and thousands of bees.
eeeek! TWO TIMES.
The first time in front of an audience at lunchtime. Then the 2nd time near the end of the day with just Phil (one of the beekeepers) AND my camera. I took the following photos using my Canon EF 28 mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens. (affiliate link)
The first time around we were introduced individually to the audience by name. Then Phil opened the hive. He carefully lifted each frame and told us all about what was going on with each frame. We held them up to the audience – laden with bees and honey. The audience sat a safe distance away from the netted enclosure while they listened to someone describe what we were doing in the hive enclosure. I’m not sure if some in the audience realised that there was no roof on that enclosure and those bees were free to fly out if they wanted to. We had a mass of bees above our heads.
There’s a Buzz About This Place
The second time around was amazing. The rain …yip we had some rain on the first official day of summer – nothing new there for being Scotland. But it sent the visitors undercover into the floral main hall …few came out again. So once it stopped raining I was given the opportunity to go into the hive area on my own with Phil.
Once all the kit was on – this woman boldly went into the enclosure LOL. No big white wellington boots 2nd time around. I was assured I’d be ok as long as I tucked my white overalls into my own boots.
Phil gave them a wee puff of smoke to calm them down and I followed him in. I was only in about a minute and then I realised that things were different this time. No kidding – I’m convinced those bees were noisier and much more active around me 2nd time around. I might be mistaken on the number but I think Phil told me there were about 40,000 bees in the hive.
Phil said that the hot weather earlier at lunchtime had probably made them a bit more docile. Well, they sure weren’t docile 2nd time around. I hoped I had tucked those trouser legs really well into my own boots.
They took a liking to my camera and my hands but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. I didn’t have one bee to stroke but loads of them all over my fingers. I just had to remember to make sure none of them were on the viewfinder or the LCD screen as I’d still bring the camera up to my eye against the netting to take a photograph. Furthermore, I didn’t want to be stung on the cheek.
Lifting Out The Frames
At the first demonstration, Phil would gently ease the frames out of the hive. Hand them to us and we’d pass them around the group and show them through the netted window to the audience. Each frame had a different level of activity. Some had very little activity towards the outside edges of the hive while others closer to the queen had honey, pollen, and nectar. I never knew that a worker bee only lives for 6 weeks during the summer and works itself to death. Three of those weeks are spent working in the hive before it even forages outside the hive! (Growing plants like pulmonaria and crocus for early spring flowers, and Erigeron karvinskianus for summer flowers are good food sources for foraging worker bees.)
The second time around Phil allowed me to take some of the frames out on my own. That was just so cool. As I placed my hands down into the hive I could see the bees climbing all over my fingers, then as I lifted the frame up Phil used my camera to take some photos of me holding it. Some of you who know me so well can just imagine how excited I was. Lifting out those frames on my own was such a special moment – eeeek I was beaming!
Phil then showed me two stings with the barb, venom gland, and stinger on his own glove and described how you should scrape this off your skin rather than pinch or pull it out. The venom gland continues pulsing after it’s detached from the bee and continues to pump venom into the skin for up to a minute. So the sooner you get that sting off your skin the better. The venom gland/poison sack is part of the bee’s stomach and the bee will die after it stings you. Worker bees (females) can only sting once, the drones (males) don’t have a sting while Queens will only sting other queens.
Undeterred I still kept taking photos. LOL – I’d thicker gloves on than him!
The Queen Bee
The first time around in one hive we found the queen and she was marked with a red dot. That was just so cool to see. The second time around in the other hive we found the queen with a yellow dot. I found out that the colours are used to ID which year the queens were born.
- Yellow when a year ends in 2 or 7.
- Red if a year ends with a 3 or 8.
Each queen also had one wing partially clipped to prevent it from leaving the hive with the first main swarm.
Now it’s got to be said that Phil treated me like a queen in giving me this special opportunity. He got a big hug at the end once we came out of the enclosure and another photo!
At least I didn’t get a red or yellow blob of paint on my head nor get one of my wings clipped LOL. But instead, I came home with precious memories that will last with me forever!
Thank you so much!
If you are interested in learning about beekeeping here’s a good book on the topic: The Bee Book: The Wonder of Bees – How to Protect them – Beekeeping Know-how (affiliate link)
If you want to grow plants to feed the bees then this book is for you! 100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive. (affiliate link)
Or give someone a gift of a selection of seeds that are perfect for pollinators: Bee-friendly native wildflower seeds certified by RHS. (affiliate link)