Q: Tell me about your job.
A: I worked at a honeybee farm for four and a half years. I started with a position in the gift shop where they sell things like honey, pollen, and candles. But I wound up working as a tour guide there too.
Q: What was your first day like?
A: On my first day we had to prepare jars of bees. It’s a delicate procedure—you have this thing that’s basically a jar with two tubes and you suck with your mouth in one tube, while you’re sticking the other tube in the hive, aiming it at bees. The girl who showed me what to do said I could put on gloves if I wanted to, but that it wasn’t necessary.
Q: So you didn’t wear gloves?
A: No. I figured if she wasn’t scared, I wasn’t either.
Q: And you didn’t get stung?
Q: Why were you putting bees into jars?
A: For BVT—Bee Venom Therapy. People use the bees to sting themselves. They believe it’s beneficial for arthritis, MS, warts. It does make sense if you think about it—the venom jolts your immune system.
Q: How did people get the bees to sting them?
A: The jars had a special lid with a silicone flap; customers could reach in with custom non-bee-crushing tweezers and grab one bee at a time. At this point, the bee would be irritated enough that just aiming her at your desired pressure point would (understandably) invoke a sting.
Q: How many bees were in a jar?
Q: How much did it cost?
Q: And so after working in the store for a while you started giving tours of the bee farm. What was the tour like?
A: We did a lot of school groups. At one point I did 143 school tours in two months during the summer.
We take the kids into a room of observation hives and talk about life in the hive, how honey is made, and the difference between the queen bees, the worker bees, and the drones.
Then we suit up, pull out bee-covered frames from the hive, and put them up against the window for the kids to see.
Then we take them to a third room where they do a bee-themed craft or play a game. My favorite game to play with them was essentially fetch. I’d throw out a bunch of balls that represented pollen, and they’d have to collect them all, and then I’d throw them out again. Not very educational, but it tired them out.
Q: I didn’t pay enough attention in school. What is the difference between those types of bees?
A: There’s one queen per hive, and she’s the mother of all the other bees in the hive. That’s 20-80,000 bees. The queen lays an egg a minute all day long in the high season.
The drones are males who will mate once (if at all) with a queen from another hive—their phallus is ripped off after the act, and they die. They don’t collect any honey, they just mate.
The worker bees do pretty much everything else. They’re the females, and they live for 45 days. They don’t sleep—they just clean the hive and collect the honey until they die.
Q: Do bees die after they sting you?
A: Worker bees die after they sting because their stinger is barbed. It gets stuck in your skin, ripping a venom sack from their abdomen and leaving them to a fairly gooey death. If you get stung, scrape the stinger and sack out of your skin immediately to reduce the amount of venom pumped into your system.
Queen bees have smooth stingers and could sting multiple times, but they doesn’t really attack predators ever because that’s not their job: too busy baby-makin’.
Drones have no stingers at all. Harmless as a fly… probably more sanitary, too.
Q: What’s it like giving tours to school kids?
A: Sometimes they’d be pumped, and that was really fun and exciting, but sometimes there would be a bad seed who’d say, “I’m bored, when is this over?” or ask smarmy questions like, “Where do baby bees come from? Does the queen bee have SEX with the drones?” It’s tours like that that make you never want to have children of your own.
On other tours you get parades of old men making the same jokes over and over again, saying, “You must be the honey!” and thinking they’re sooo clever. I’m like, “Thank you, sir.”
Q: Where does honey come from?
A: The bees collect nectar, a type of sugar syrup from flowers. They suck it up through a straw-like tongue into their second stomach and the enzymes in there break it down into glucose and fructose. They fly back and deposit it in the cells and then cover it with a thin layer of wax to keep it protected.
Q: Are there any other things you did as part of this job?
A: They have a mascot bee costume that I would put on and dance on the corner to attract attention for special events. It didn’t have legs, though, so if you were wearing shorts it just looked like you were naked underneath.
There was once a Santa Claus parade and I was in the costume. I had to pass out honey sticks to the kids, but I couldn’t see and the parade was going fast, so I was kind of poking the kids with the sticks while I was sprinting after the car.
Another thing I’ve done is wear a bee beard. Beekeepers like to show off by wearing bees on their face, neck, and chest. We’ll do it at festivals or they’ll have a competition for who can collect the most bees on their face.
Q: How do they get the bees to land on you?
A: You put the queen bee on the necklace and the other bees are attracted to her.
They’re all gentle and happy. When you’re done you just take it off and they fly away.
Q: How many times did you do it?
A: Four or five times. It feels like pins and needles because of all the little legs tickling you. It’s very heavy and it can get warm. It’s a very interesting experience… a lot of people say it gives them a feeling of peace, of being one with the universe.
Q: Did you get stung?
A: No. It’s pretty rare that you get stung doing that.
Q: How many people were stung while you worked at the bee farm?
A: Maybe one or two. A kid might sit on one or step on one, and there was nothing we could do about that. The beekeepers got stung all the time though… but it’s just part of the job.
Q: Are you considered a beekeeper?
A: I’m a certified beekeeper. There are university-level programs you can take to earn the official title of Master Bee Keeper, but I just earned a certificate through a course we taught on the farm. Anybody who keeps bees can consider themselves a beekeeper, though. You don’t really need to take a class.
Q: How do you get the honey out of the hive?
A: We have these white wood boxes, and inside are frames with honey. You take out the frame and blow or brush off the bees. Then you put the frame in an extractor that spins the honey out.
An extractor that someone might have at home could do 2-4 frames. We had one that would do 26 frames. We produced 100,000 pounds of honey every year.
Farmers also hired us to bring bees to their fields to pollinate the fields. Like blueberry farms, squash farms. There are lots of different kinds of honey; it depends on the type of plant it was pollinated from. There are hundreds of varieties. There is one called fireweed honey—it’s a pink weed that grows after a forest fire—and it’s a delicacy, it’s known to honey connoisseurs as the champagne of honey. It’s buttery and totally clear.
Q: Do you like honey?
A: I didn’t before I started working there, but there’s a big difference between honey from some faceless grocery store supplier and that from a local farmer, straight from the hive. I use it all the time now. Everyone I know has gotten it for Christmas, though, and they’re probably over it at this point.
Q: I can tell you know a lot about bees.
A: I don’t think I’ll ever forget all of the things I know about bees.