Sprout field trip to Stuart Woronecki's honeybee farm
Sunday, April 29th, Sprout members braved the backroads of Connecticut to be initiated into the world of beekeeping with music professor Stuart Woronecki at his farm in Hanover. We drove in through the old stone wall, greeted by two dogs and a fleet of children. Stuart had just driven up from Georgia the day before with 60,000 bees to replenish his hives. We had the opportunity to help him transfer them from the travel boxes into the hives he had prepared. Everyone (even the more timid members of our group) got a chance to place the queen bee's sugar-capped cage into last year's honeycomb inside the hive, and with a sharp tap to gather the sleepy bees at the bottom of the box, slip off the cover and flip it upside down over the opening into the hive. Bees were swarming around us constantly, buzzing close but rarely making contact. It made a comfortable, low hum in the air while tried to handle the bees as smoothly as Stuart (he learned in his youth from his neighbor, an elderly man born in 1896!). As the day warmed up and more bees started getting active we backed away from the hives and Stuart and his son donned protective suits to keep working. He also showed us the honey room in the barn where the culmination of all this activity is harvested. The details of bees' lives are fascinating-- here are a few facts we learned from Stuart:
*A queen bee's natural life cycle is 3-4 years, while the worker bees only live an average of 2-3 weeks (except in the fall, when the queen bee feeds her workers a different hormone and most of them live through the winter!)
*The queen emits a strong pheremone which quickly permeates the hive and all of the bees within. They can smell her particular odor on each other to know who's family and who's not. If the queen bee dies without a replacement the bees will find a new hive. If the hive gets too large the queen bee will nurture another queen and the hive will split into two.
*The queen only mates once in her life, then stores the semen to fertilize new larvae at will.
*Bees are a very 'hygienic' insect--they will clean their own hives and eject the unwanted debris.the hives!
*When they collect nectar they mix it with an enzyme before depositing it in the wax honeycomb. It's very liquidy at first and must evaporate until there is almost no water content. The water is evaporated by the heat that the bees produce in the hive, easily reaching temperatures of 110 degrees on warm days.
*Beekeepers know when the honey is ready to be harvested because the bees cover over the comb with a wax seal. Then the honeycomb slats are put in the 'honey-spinner' where the centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) force extracts the honey and it is drizzled into jars.
a honeycomb slate
*100 hives (the number Stuart keeps) can produce six to sevent thousand pounds of honey every summer!
*The reason very young children are warned against eating honey is because it contains trace amounts of botulism.
*Honey is sometimes used as an antibiotic because of its dessicant properties.
We lingered on the lawn, drinking in the sunny day and the exuberant chickens sprinting across the grass. The call of schoolwork sounded distant behind the hum of the honeybees. We reluctantly said our goodbyes.
As soon as the flowers start blooming Stuart will be transporting two hives to the northern border of the Sprout garden! (We finally got the official go-ahead from Ulysses Hammond) so they will be pollinating our garden all summer and producing honey! Zoe will be working with Stuart over the summer to make sure the queens are happy and all is well in the hives.