By Ryan Bronaugh
Two brave and dedicated Warren County residents have been whispering to bees. Not literally, perhaps, but nonetheless they have had their share of close and personal time with nature’s hardest worker. From bee rescues—taking bees from areas where they are not welcomed guests to a more formidable home, like the campus garden—to honey extraction, both had plenty of practice working with the, often misunderstood, pollinators.
Last weekend two Monmouth College professors, Craig Vivian and Marlo Belschner visited the hives in the campus garden to extract a little honey, as well as to check on how each of the five current hives were doing. Vivian pointed out that by this time next year, he would like to see ten additional hives in the same location. The Courier was on site to witness the process, and to ask many of the thousands of questions that come to mind when one watches someone intentionally interact with an insect that has the capability to cause painful stings, and even death if one is allergic to bee venom (Vivian pointed out that bees will often kill mice, and other intruders, by stinging them and then cooking them in a small bee-made furnace they produce by forming a swarm-ball around the body).
“If you’re going to keep bees, you need to have a smoker and a hive tool,” Vivian said. The hive tool looked very similar to a miniature pry bar, and was used in a similar manner as well. The bees produce a glue-like substance called propolis, which sticks the boards of the wooden hive together, as well as keeps the hive water and wind proof. The hive tool allows someone to lift the boards apart, cracking the propolis seal, and to lift the frames (panels the bees build the combs on, which can be removed in order to extract the honey without harming the bees or hives permanently) as well. The propolis also serves to keep all spaces which allow entrance to the hive to be no more than 3/16 of an inch; a space which bees can pass through but very few other creatures can. The bees collect tree sap and other products of nature inside their body in order to produce the propolis through their mouths.
The smoke is simply, smoke. Vivian used newspaper to stuff the smoker and get a small flame going, then, he later used dried leaves he collected off the ground to produce the smoke needed to calm the bees. The smoke makes the bees think there is fire, and in order to prepare for such a natural disaster they hunker down deep within the hive and feed on honey. Their bellies full, they then become slightly more lethargic and docile. Ready for handling.
As Vivian and Belschner began to dismantle the hive in a practiced and intentional manner, Vivian took the time to explain each process, why they did it, and what they were doing. Displaying a drone bee, he picked up one of the larger bees from the colony and rubbed it along his face to demonstrate the fact that drones have no stinger.
As the process carried along, it became easier and easier to relax around thousands of swarming, and crawling bees—protective equipment included a hat, and not much else. Two students, residents of the Garden House, wore nothing more than khaki shorts, not even shoes. Each hive presented new opportunities for Vivian to point out different characteristics of the bees and their hives. Some hives were much better prepared for the coming cold months, with masses of brood (the nurseries of the hives) surrounded by masses of honey.
Craig Vivian acknowledged that he does not like to handle the bees any more than absolutely necessary. Not because of any discomfort—Belschner said that she has seen him take as many as fourteen stings to the back of the neck without paying much attention to the attacks at all—but because he believes that the less they are messed with, the more docile they become; making them much easier to handle. The pair may take one more look inside the hives before the bitterest of winter hits, but they will not be extracting anymore honey. The campus hives are beneficial as teaching tools, as well as to give home to one of nature’s most stunning creatures.