To approach the beehive, beekeepers light a smoker.
A bee smoker is a little lidded can with a built-in bellows. You start with a piece of crumpled newspaper, light it, and drop it to the bottom of the smoker, then use the bellows to puff puff puff until you get some good licking flames, and then you add the fuel (dried pine needles, dried grass, wood shavings, fuel pellets, what have you), keep puffing and, in minutes (in theory), you get a strong plume of cool-to-the-touch smoke.
In fact, this process takes some practice. It’s easy to get a flame, and then it’s easy to kill the flame. You can get hot smoke and sparks fairly easily, too. But getting the cool, thick, lasting smoke is the trick and we’re finally getting the knack of it. Almost.
When you’ve got consistent smoke, you don the bee suits and head to the hive. Puff the hive entrance where the guard bees are keeping watch, let the smoke seep in. You and the bees are quieting. There’s smoke in the air and it’s the sunny part of the day.
Let the smoke swirl. Lift the lid of the hive. Spread the smoke around the lid, down into the frames. Thousands of bees, busy but calm, focused on their jobs.
And we just can’t look away.
Every time we visit the hive I want more time. There are so many details to absorb, beyond merely tending to the needs of the hive (refilling sugar syrup feeders, removing extraneous comb, checking for eggs and larvae).
Every time we visit the hive we come back with more questions. For instance, do bees sleep? Yes, we read, they do. In fact, you might come across a bee napping in a flower. Imagine that.
We’ve yet to see the queen. Did I tell you we named her Elspeth? She’s marked with a green dot so we have a prayer of seeing her, but so far she’s been hidden, doing her work, surrounded by her attendants.
We check the hive only every three to five days so as not to disturb them too much. And we need to wait for the weather to cooperate; it’s no good to open the hive on a blustery, rainy day.
On hive-check days, I go to bed with the smell of smoke in my hair. The same as on a camping day, or after an evening by the fire pit, roasting marshmallows, watching for meteors, and musing about the dreams of bees.
This is my first photo in the new series of 52, running from May 2014 to May 2015. If you’re interested in joining (it’s never too late!), check out the 52 Photos Project blog.
These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.