Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bee Club Picnic

The Worcester County Beekeeper Association tries to hold it's summer meetings outdoors, usually at the home of another beekeeper. Saturday was the annual summer cookout in Princeton, MA. There was the usual hamburger and hot dog fare, as well as lots of sides and deserts (beekeepers love to eat!).

In addition to the food, the summer picnic is the time for the annual Smoker contest. The contest goes like this:
  • The beekeeper has 7 minutes to prepare and light their smoker
  • The smokers have to sit for 45 minutes without anyone touching them
  • Then the beekeeper gets to squeeze the smoker bellows 5 times
The winner is the one with the smoker which produces the most smoke at the end of this time. Here are some pictures from the event:

Let me tell you, I have a hard time keeping my smoker lit for 10 minutes while I am inspecting my hive! It's not easy. Each person has their favorite smoker fuel. Some use dried pine needles (that's what I use); others use a cotton batting; still others use rotten wood. We are lucky that the last few state smoker champions (yes, they have the contest on a state level as well!) are from our club. The winner get bragging rights, plus a free ticket to the Thanksgiving banquet. No, I didn't participate.

The main purpose of the beekeeper club is to promote beekeeping and beekeeping education. So each meeting includes an opportunity to get into some hives and learn something more about keeping bees. This particular owner had on his property a single large hive (on the right in the picture at the top), plus he had 2 double-nuc's. Normally a nuc consists of a small box with 5 frames in it. But you can also get a regular sized box and put a divider in it, and then put 5 frames on each side. The entrances to each side are on different sides of the box, so the bees don't mix. This is what he had.

The person giving the demonstration was Dr. Dick Callahan, who is a very well known queen bee breeder. He breeds queens which are resistant to the Varroa Mite, and are called VSH (for Varroa Sensitive Hygene) queens. Anyway, Dr. Callahan did an excellent job pointing out aspects of these nucs. Here are some pictures from the hive examination:

The first picture is one of the double nucs (you can see an entrance on the front, as well as on the right side). That nuc had grown enough that it was actually ready to put into a full size hive (actually a little past due, looking at the number of bees hanging out on the front of the hive). We also got to see the birth of a worker bee (in the third picture; I circled it in red).

You can see in the 3rd picture that there was a lot of interest in hearing from Dr. Callahan.

Something occurred to me when I was looking at the 4th picture. Go ahead, click on it and zoom in. Notice those little golden spots all around the picture. Those are flying honeybees. Only Dr. Callahan and a couple of others had veils on - the rest of us were just standing around the hives, some in shorts and flip-flops, in the midst of hundreds of flying bees. Sure, they land on you, crawl around a little, and then take back off flying. If you would have asked me last year if I would be comfortable being around hundreds of stinging insects, I would have said you were crazy. Now I work a beehive myself with my bare hands - no gloves. I was in these hives taking closeup pictures with no veil, nothing. Amazing!

And finally, I leave you with a picture of a bee on clover, with full pollen baskets on her legs. I took this in the field in front of the hives. What are the odds of finding a bee there!?!


  1. First off, I am wondering - shouldn't a beekeeper picnic feature a contest for honey-related foods? Like baked beans sweetened with honey? (Does anyone put honey on the burgers?) Second, I must say that, judging from the house in the background, beekeeping must be highly profitable. Wow!!!

  2. Good point! I forgot to mention that there was also a bee-related trivia contest set up by the state apiary inspector. It consisted of identifying items related to beekeeping, knowledge of bee lore, as well as identifying about 4 different kinds of honey (I think I identified the clover honey, but there was some honey with some awesome flavor!)

    Re: the house, that is the perpetual "work in progress" for the owner. He and a bunch of friends work on it every once in a while. We walked through it, and the inside is getting roughed in. I heard from people that the picnic is held here each year, and they have been watching the progress of the house. The piece of property was very extensive and impressive.


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