We spent the first part of our Fourth of July celebration with Anthony’s family at his uncle’s house. While there we checked in with Anthony’s younger cousin, Depeche, who started working as a beekeeper’s apprentice about a year ago. He recently got his own five-frame from which to grow his own colony. He hopes to grow and expand his hive to many hives so that eventually he might strike out as a beekeeper on his own. While we were there he introduced us to his first hive.
Hives all have their own personalities, Depeche explained, and even individual bees can have standout traits. He’s seen individual bees be very aggressive or very lazy, but overall a hive is relatively uniform. He said he picked out this hive because the bees were particularly gentle. He didn’t even bother grabbing his veil or gear while he lead us past the vegetable garden and through a narrow passage between the back of the house and the fence.
Normally bees make me very skittish but I was so excited to see his hive and was assured that the bees were “nice bees” so I eagerly followed. I heard the soft drone of buzzing before I saw the small five-frame hive. About two feet tall and not even a foot wide, the small hive with filled with shiny yellow and black bodies. Depeche supplemented their diet with a bit of sugar water should they need it, and other than that the only gear he used was a spray bottle containing a brown watery liquid labeled “hickory.” The bees dislike the hickory scent and retreat into the hive when doused with it so the frames can be removed without harming any bees.
“I have to be careful,” Depeche told us. “I don’t want to kill any bees or give them a reason to sting. When a bee stings you it releases a hormone that tells other bees to sting you, too.” He gently but confidently removed a frame while a cloud of vaguely curious bees hovered around us. I was cloaked with several dozen bees crawling on my bare legs and shoulder, their legs on my skin feeling like feathers alive with an electric current. I could tell: these bees were nice.
The bees seemed to recognize Depeche. They were more curious about Anthony and I than they were him. It was like they recognized them. And maybe they do. They are scent-focused and I suppose there’s a chance they are familiar, and used, to his scent. He’s probably been designated a non-threat.
Depeche pointed out the aspects of bee life. The sealed parts of the comb contained bee larvae, their young, and we saw the glistening promise of honey spread generously throughout the cells. “Do you want to taste it?” he asked. We licked it off our fingers after dipping them straight into the comb. It tasted like liquid sunlight. He told us about the various honey varieties he’s tasted and the difference in flavor based on what crops the bees have pollinated. He has yet to extract this batch of honey, but I requested some when he gets around to it.
He pointed out worker bees and soldier bees and explained that most bees in the Valley are Italian bees, but since he’s apprenticed to a beekeeper who came from Russia his bees are a mixture of Italian and Russian bees. His knowledge of bee colonies and structure and life in general amazed me. Bees go quietly about their business, every day of every year, building their hives, pollinating our crops, and making our lives possible. I’m so proud that Depeche a part of this process.