We are excited to introduce Andrew Shahan, our Head Beekeeper for Central Texas, in his first blog post. Enjoy!
There are a handful of things in life that I can say bring me pure joy; two of those things are my family and honeybees. My family has been very supportive of my journey from attempted academic bee scientist into that of a full time beekeeper. I have been working with bees for several years and it was only appropriate that I finally had my family come visit my work and get into bees for the first time in their lives.
I was able to get a part of my family, including my father, into bees for the first time this past weekend. I revel in watching a first timer go from holding a frame of bees with visibly shaking hands and quivering voice to placing the frame back in the hive with a confidence and calmness that they did not have just moments prior. So, if you are reading this and having any reservations about getting into some bees, just go for it! Bug all of your beekeeper friends to let you inspect one of the hives that they take care of because it will give you an experience that you will never forget. However, getting back to this weekend, I was watching my father who is in his sixties hold a frame of bees for the first time. It was a surreal moment for me and I had the thought: “Wow! I, at the ripe age of twenty-four, was able to impart one of my favorite experiences to someone that had far more wisdom and life experience than I did.” Those precious minutes watching my Dad made me reflect on my own beginnings in beekeeping and allowed me to recount my initial encounter with a hive inspection.
So, without further rambling I hope this story will resonate with those of you whom have been into hives. But, if you haven’t ventured into beekeeping maybe this recounting of my experience will peak your interest!
Your first time opening a hive is an experience that you never forget. Whether you are alone or have a trusted mentor by your side the world around you quickly fades and it is just you and the hive. Your senses are inundated from the start by the murmur of bees caused by your first puff of smoke into the hive entrance. You feel as the adrenaline quickly courses through your veins with each heart beat as you use your hive tool to pry off the propolis encrusted cover from the starkly white hive body. That first rush of fresh air hits the bees in the hive and causes them to flit their wings in unison delivering a hair-raising buzz. All of the sudden an extreme color contrast saturates your senses. You spot the thousands of black and yellow stripes moving methodically around the top of the frames but it is hard to pick out and follow a single moving object; a few of those objects fly up at you and undulate around your head all while your breath is heavy and chest is pounding. Your body and brain know the black and yellow color contrast of the bee’s abdomen means danger, yet you remain oddly calm. Then a unique smoky, waxy, subtly sweet, and rich scent again floods your senses and at that moment you realize that no other place on earth is like the inside of a beehive.
Upon prying out the first frame filled with bees, pollen, honey, and brood, you notice that there is not a single wasted movement. Every worker bee moves with purpose and has somewhere to be or a task to attend to. Energy is something that is efficiently managed where the actions, dances, and proceedings of the bees are coordinated and precise. After attempted scrutiny of a few frames with the same sensory overload that was there when you first opened the hive, your senses finally reach their crescendo: you have somehow spotted the elusive lady that runs the show. It is your first time seeing a queen bee and you revel in all that her elongated abdomen has to offer. You distinctly remember awakening from a stupor with your jaw slightly ajar; you were hypnotized by watching the queen bee zig-zag from one cell to the next laying her eggs. She was so elegant but at the same time fierce; the workers were surrounding and herding the queen but none dare to question her choices. Finally, with some angst, paranoia, sweaty palms, and quickly paced heartbeats you place the queen and her frame back into the hive hoping she was not squished in the process.
At the end of your first hive inspection, once you have placed the frames in their respective slots, the cover has been placed back on the hive body, and you are hoping you have not squished the queen, you take a few deep breaths and have a realization: you are now a beekeeper. You are now one of the few people that have the pleasure of working with and caring for the most fascinating and one of the most complex creatures on this planet.