FAIR HILL — The next time Bradford Luff teaches his beginning beekeeper class for Cecil Land Trust he’s going to let his students in on a few secrets in advance.
“Don’t wear black. The only natural enemy of the honeybee is the bear,” Luff, vice president of the Susquehanna Beekeepers Association, said to his five students Saturday morning.
He added that wearing red is also not a good idea because the bees see it as black.
As each student donned the protective gear — a long sleeved jacket complete with a screened in hood — and gloves, Luff urged them to move slow so as not to antagonize the bees swarming in and out of a collection of hives on the property off Blake Road.
Luff spent about 30 minutes giving an overview of the life of the honeybee and bee colonies before inviting the class to look inside and see for themselves. Taking turns, each was handed the tools of the apiarist and trained how to gently pry apart the inner workings and see the different steps from how the bees fill each socket in the honeycomb with a propolis, or bee larvae.
He showed them how to handle the frames where the hives are built and also showed how a fresh frame eventually becomes a wealth of wax and comb and honey. He showed them both empty and filled spots in the combs, detailing how the eggs are laid and fertilized and capped off to grow.
“You can smell the honey,” said Emma Douglas from Rising Sun.
Luff explained that the hives on the CLT property hold anywhere from 10 to more than 40,000 bees. On several hives the entry was so thick with bees that the structure was no longer visible.
Luff started a smoker and sent puffs into the hives before entering, explaining that it makes the bees think there is a fire and they retreat calmly.
“Bees do everything by sense of smell,” he noted.
Sylvie Atkinson, who lives in the vicinity of the hives, wasn’t necessarily interested in it as a hobby.
“I just wanted to learn about it,” she said.
Atkinson was amazed at the depth of the knowledge she gained.
“I knew they worked hard but my goodness,” she said, still in awe of seeing the inner workings of an active hive.
Zach Douglas, from Bel Air, Md., admitted she was nervous approaching the hives at first.
“They were so docile,” he said. “It was a good experience. When all you’ve done is ingest honey you’re not conscious of all the work involved.”
Douglas left himself open to the idea of having his own hive in the future, which was good news to his wife, Santana.
“I want fresh honey now,” she said of her experiences prying the frames loose and learning how to remove and study the bee colonies.
Emma Douglas said before the session she was not a big fan of the all natural golden syrup.
“But I’m going to go get a bottle of (Luff’s) honey at Benjamin’s Market,” she said.
Luff offered his class the opportunity to taste various flavors of honey including his own Pine Valley Honey.
“I would like to have my own hive. I think it would be a real good hobby,” Emma Douglas said. “The buzzing was calming.”
Oh, Luff did not wear the protective gear and during the course he did get stung, which gave him the chance to share one more valuable piece of information.
“When you get stung don’t pick out the stinger,” he said.
He compared the stinger to a turkey baster and said to pick it out like a splinter only injects more of the bee venom into the victim.
“Instead scrape it off,” he said.
Depending on your opinion of bee stings, Luff noted that the bee that stung him only lived a few minutes after doing the dirty deed.
For those interested in getting a honeybee hive of their own, Luff suggested starting next spring, but added contacting local beekeepers to order a nuc — or hive-starter — wouldn’t be a bad idea. To learn more contact the association at http://susquehannabeekeepers.com/
The next class will be Aug. 14. Contact Alisa Webb at 410-441-3717 to register or for more information.