Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Buzzing Bees by Marion Ekholm


 



Back in New Jersey, my husband raised honey bees. It required quite an investment: equipment including boxes to hold the frames for brooding and honey production, a smoker, sharp knife and an extractor for removing the honey.  The protective clothing included a pith helmet covered in a net veil, long leather gloves, and a jumpsuit outfit (my husband’s white ambulance coveralls). He did this for several years until his many stings began to give him a reaction.
 

The bees came through the US mail.


Yes, that’s right.

On April 1st our bees arrived in a small wooden box with wire screening on two sides.



This contained thousands of honey bees - workers (females), drones (males) and one queen. The bees buzzed ominously, and the box had cracked during transport. The terrified people in the post office were so afraid of the bees getting free that a special delivery was made to our house. We weren’t home, but the back door was open (because our dog could guard against any intruder). A brave soul opened the door and stuck the box on the kitchen floor.

We arrived home to find bees attached to the broken box (they wouldn’t leave their queen) and a terrified Irish setter in the living room. We surmised by the broken gate that separated the two rooms that Gigi had checked out the box, been stung and dove through the gate to get away.

 

When my husband finally had enough honey, he decided to sell it at the yearly Flea Market we ran for the volunteer fire department. To draw customers, he built a box with wire net openings for air and glass on both sides that would hold four frames – two brooders and two honey combs - filled with bees. And it definitely drew crowds. Along with just about everyone who attended the flea market, it attracted a good hundred or so yellow jackets. Disgruntled, he locked his wonderful display case in the van to clear the area of insects drawn by the smell of honey.
 
A friend of ours, a second grade teacher, had seen the display case and asked if my husband would bring it to her class and show it to her students. He couldn’t because he worked during the day, but MARION could!

 

Yeah, right. This was his hobby, not mine. Anyway I agreed but only if he removed the glass and replaced it with Plexiglas. I had no intention of having this thing break in a classroom filled with students.




The hobby eventually did become mine, and for several years I brought the case filled with bees to my son and daughter’s classes. I kept the bees under a sheet, but everyone could hear their buzz as I demonstrated what a bee keeper wore and explained all about the importance of bees. Once the students were familiar with how a hive worked, I removed the sheet and let them watch the worker bees and the drones (The queen was left back in the hive or all the bees would have followed). The children spent a great deal of time trying to figure out which was which and actually saw some births as a new bee came through the comb in the breeder.

When my talk concluded, we had a choice of a spoonful of honey or a piece of honeycomb (something I’d never do today with so many potential allergic reactions). Some children had never tasted honey before.    



My son’s class made special cards to thank me for my demonstration. I treasure them to this day, and I’ve used them to add color to this blog.



One student told me I was the queen bee. He was a sweetie.    


Have you ever been placed in an unexpected challenge that turned into a happy experience?
 

23 comments:

  1. What a fascinating and SWEET story, Marion, and I love, love, LOVE these pictures! There's a fella up the street from us who raises honey, and it's simply delicious. Next time I stop by for a refill, I'll be sure to thank him for all the hard work, time, and expense that goes into every jar. Way to turn a challenge into a victory, girl! Here's hoping your Tuesday is terrific!

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    1. Every few years when I go on a cleaning binge, I consider tossing the pictures but each time I’m reminded of how the children enjoyed my talk. I can’t let them go. I just showed the covers here. Inside the cards there’s all these fantastic comments.

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  2. Marion, I love bees! And honey. My granddad raised honey bees, too. I used to love watching him do his bee thing and a chunk of the comb was the biggest treat... My next book out in October features a scientist hero who is studying bees in Alaska--bumble bees and native species not honey bees. I loved researching bees of all kinds for this story. Fun post!

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    1. I had to do quite a bit of research while showing the bees so that I could answer the children’s questions. It’s a fascinating subject. I’ll look forward to your book.

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    2. Carol, I live in Alaska and love to watch those huge bumblebees work the flowers on my deck. I don't know how the manage to fly. I'll look forward to your book.

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  3. You ARE the queen bee, Marion! I loved seeing the illustrations as I read your post. How wonderful of the children to have made them for you. I would treasure them, too.

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    1. People believe being a queen is something special, but in the hive the queen is a tireless worker. She spends a great deal of time producing new bees, getting rid of the extra drones, and killing unwanted potential rival queens that the workers produce to insure the hive’s continuance. I prefer a much simpler lifestyle.

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  4. Marion, How cool. You have done some of the most interesting things in your life. I love the story of your special delivery, but your poor doggie.

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    1. I can still see Gigi cowering in one corner of the living room. What a day that was. We never ordered new bees through the mail again.

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  5. What a great story. I'm fascinated that bees and baby chicks can come through the mail. Love the pictures.

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    1. It surprised us as well when my husband decided to start beekeeping. Even more surprising that they weren’t completely dormant.

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  6. This is such a great story, Marion. I really enjoyed the drawing too. So sweet! Several years ago, when my employer was shut down by our corporate office, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life. To keep my sanity, I started to write again, as I job searched. After seven months of stress, I ended up in a much better job and I had my first short story published. :)

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    1. Jill - does everyone know you but me? You sort of sneaked in one day without a lot of fanfare. I'd like to know more about you. Congratulations on the publication of your short story - even if it wasn't recent.

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    2. Jill, glad you were able to finally find something better than the previous job. And to get a story published as well. Great job.

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    3. Hi Muriel! Ha ha...I sneaked in by way of Kate James. I'm a reader and a writer. I recently advanced in the LI Book2Blub contest and I just submitted my first completed manuscript this evening. I love the interaction on this blog. :)

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    4. Thank you, Marion. It's easier to write when you know the bills will be paid. :)

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    5. Thank you for your participation and good luck on your submission.

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  7. Queen Marion! What a wonderful story - and illustrated! Children's artwork is so amazing. I feel about bees the way Roz feels about spiders. But I understand how important they are and appreciate the efforts of those who work with them. I just don't want to do it. Great post, though. Inviting Ron to come in and look at the artwork.

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    1. When I gave my talk, I called myself an amateur entomologist. Always been curious about insects. I know Roz really can’t stand spiders, but I don’t have a problem with them.

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  8. This is so interesting! I was one of those postal workers who were afraid of the bees that came through. :-) I l love the pictures--what good memories they are. How DO you tell the difference between queen, drone, and worker?

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    1. The queen is the longest and the drone is fat, in comparison. How interesting that you were on the other end of that type of delivery.

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  9. I love the drawings, and have one questions -- "what happened with Gigi?"

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