By Olivia Olson, Farm Fellow
Who could’ve guessed how much there was to learn about bees?
Certainly not me, but Nicole Balenger does. She has been keeping bees for around 20 years and came to the Allegheny Farm to teach us all about bees and beekeeping this past week. We started off the morning learning the ins and outs of the types of bees found in a hive (hint: it’s worker bees, drones, and the queen), as well as the roles each bee plays throughout their lives. I had no idea worker bees had so many roles within the colony, including everything from caring for newborn bees and protecting the colony (hence their dreaded stinger) to building the hive, collecting food, and even regulating the environment of the hive so it stays comfortable. And to think I had previously thought bees only collected pollen and built a hive with their mysterious skills… Also, even though there is just one queen per hive and her only job is to lay eggs, she is arguably the most important bee, as she holds the whole hive together.
In the afternoon, we headed down the hill to visit AMI’s own bees, in three hives next to the farm. I was nervous initially to go into the hives, envisioning bees swarming everywhere and on me, as I’ve been stung a few times before and didn’t want to repeat the experience, but since learning that bees can sense fear, I focused on trying to only emanate good vibes to have a good experience with the bees. We put on our bee gear – the classic white jackets, mesh hats, and if we wanted them, massive gloves – and headed over to look inside the hives.
The common structure of a beehive is a bottomless wooden box with variable height (depending on how big you want it) with 10 wooden frames inside. Bees build honeycomb on these frames, and then use the holes in the honeycomb to produce honey and hatch baby bees grow. Eventually, the baby bees hatch out of the honeycomb cell to be part of the hive. As the season progresses, you can stack more boxes with frames as the hive grows.
Ours are just a couple boxes high currently, but still hold thousands of bees. I was so impressed when Nicole reached into the hive and pulled out frames teeming with bees with her bare hands, pointing out all the parts of the comb for us with such calm and confidence. We got to see comb with little eggs just a day old, as well as where little bee larvae were developing before hatching, and we even saw the queen herself!
Even though I’m still hesitant to be around large gatherings of bees, learning from Nicole and seeing her interact with the bees gave us so much more knowledge and comfort from understanding them and knowing a little more about how to interact with our bees this season. Bees are incredible and essential insects, and we’re so grateful for their help pollinating our vegetables and flowers on the farm, as well as the opportunity to have a deep dive into their lives and care!