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Backyard beekeeping

Updated: 1 day ago

Art by Afreen Majumdar

Close your eyes. Imagine your happy place, somewhere you feel comfortable and safe, free from the burdens of life. To 9th grader Genavieve Burgoyn, this place is her backyard surrounded by a swarm of bees.

Ever since she was little, Genavieve has always had a passion for bees. She would let them land on her, pick them up, and be overly fascinated with them. “Once I even had one land on my eyelid,” she said, “But it didn’t concern me because I knew that she wouldn’t hurt me.” She has lived with the motto, “As long as you don’t bother the bees, they won't bother you,” which has allowed her passion for bees to grow. This passion turned into a project when she visited her uncle in Slovakia, a beekeeper. “He had bees and showed me his little setup and what he does with his honey and stuff,” she recalls when thinking back on this trip, “They sent me home with all this delicious honey and an understanding that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a beekeeper.

All photos by Edith Croshaw

Genavieve got her first hive about a year ago. She and her friend Edith ordered a large Flowhive1, a specific kind of bee hive that makes it easier and more humane to harvest honey. “It was really hard to build since it came with very little instruction, but worth it.” After a week of assembly, the meaningless wood pile became a beautiful and functional hive ready for its bees. It was warm on the day they went to pick up the nuc2. It was a long drive from the pickup location, but it wasn’t boring because the trunk was full of the perpetual drone of buzzing bees. “Even though they were in a portable hive it was like they were buzzing inside your ear,” Edith said, “The sound was so calming and I couldn’t focus on anything else.” The transfer of the bees to their permanent hive was a relatively easy process. They started by removing the frames of comb and placing them inside the hive. Neither of them were stung. “This experience was so exciting!” Genavieve remarks with a smile on her face, “I had a lot of fun.”

After that, Genavieve and Edith would open the hive every week and check on the bees. “The fascinating thing about the hive is that from the outside it may seem simple but on the inside it is a complex system full of moving parts.” After a while, they would notice the different types of bees that inhabit the hive. There were small, scraggly, bees that had just matured from larvae in their eggs, the classic female working bees who were usually the most feisty, and large drones with big eyes. Genavieve admitted that the drones were her favorite. “They can’t sting and are so cute and fuzzy, from a beekeeper's perspective.” The drones, though adorable, serve no purpose except that of mating with the queen. Sadly, most drones will never fulfill this role because the queen only needs to mate once. Genavieve explains that the drones are not exiled from the hive unless there is a shortage of food, which usually happens in the winter. Instead, they are kept close in case the queen dies and the new queen needs a mate. A rare sight inside the hive was the queen, whom they dubbed “Bee-atrice”. She was often accompanied by a cluster of diligent workers, who were collectively named Bertha, and identifiable by her long, slender, abdomen, as well as via a purple spot on her back. 

Photo by Damien Tupinier on Unsplash

“Whenever you saw the queen it was great,” Genavieve said, “Since her being present and laying meant that the hive was healthy.” A queen lays up to 1000 eggs each day to keep the hive populated with bees. This may seem like it would get crowded and chaotic, which is possible, but the queen “controls” the other bees with her pheromones. She releases a special pheromone that keeps the colony in check and working together. But, if the queen dies or overpopulates the hive, the colony can leave or descend into chaos.

“This is the worst thing that can happen to your hive,” Genavieve explains, “But not the only problem that can occur.” One of the main problems she has been battling since the beginning is the hive beetles, small beetles that invade the beehive and leech off of its resources. Genavieve and Edith have fought with hordes of these small, seemingly endless beetles since they got the hive. After a while, they became just another thing to spot in the hive, and they made sure to throw them as far away as possible. Additionally, there are other challenges in beekeeping such as varroa mites, pincer bugs, and the possibility of your bees swarming, leaving you and their hive behind.

Though beekeeping comes with its challenges, the fun and excitement can outweigh the cons. Being around bees is proven to be calming and help to relieve stress. Genavieve agrees, stating that her favorite part of beekeeping is the sense of peace. “When you are out with the hive, it is like everything else isn’t important anymore. You just hear the buzzing of bees as they beat their tiny wings, swarming around you. It's meditative.” Genavieve fondly recalls scooping up a cluster of bees in her hands, feeling their tiny legs as they tickle her through her gloves. She smiles as she remembers this, a gleam in her eye. “If you want to become a beekeeper, do it! It requires a lot of patience, but the entire process is so rewarding. You are going to fail, your bees are going to leave you, but everything works out in the end.”  

1 Flow Hive - A certain type of beehive that is used in backyard or commercial beekeeping. It is a very controversial topic in the bee world whether this is a good hive or not.

2 Nuc - A small-sized hive in which a colony of bees resides.

3 Varroa mites - A small type of mite that feeds on bee larvae, therefore killing the hive.

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Reda Rountree
Reda Rountree

This is a great story! I was impressed with how knowledgeable Genavieve is about bees.

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