Standing in the morning sun, a cool breeze blowing, a crowd of about 25 people gathers around three white boxes to watch 30,000 honey bees fly endlessly in and out of small holes. Spring arrived late this year, and the honey bees have a lot of catching up to do.
Bob Hughes, a professional beekeeper, gets out of his blue SUV and proceeds to his hives. He is wearing a blue sweatshirt and jeans and carries an air of compassionate authority, a certain charisma that only comes from age and experience.
He props his arm on a sign post and introduces the event, then takes a hand held bee smoker from the back of his truck and puffs it liberally at one of the hives to pacify the bees.
Next he pulls a large white cell panel from one of the bee boxes. The golden brown comb glistens as it hums with the sound of thousands of tiny worker bees. He brings it around the crowd, assuring them the bees pose no threat. Some children rush to his side, eager to learn more. While others hide behind parents’ legs.
Every spring, Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, NJ has its beekeeping event; this year it was held on April 11. Howell, part of the Mercer County Park Commission, practices farming techniques that were used between 1890 and 1910. The farm is open to the public, and hosts a variety of outdoor events year round, from sheep shearing (coming up May 2) to bat box building (May 3).
As the visitors stare at the beehives, Bob Hughes, walks towards them to begin his yearly spring beekeeping event. An event Howell living history farm hosts. Hughes does any maintenance needed to his hive, and provides information on bees, and beekeeping.
Pete Watson the director of the farm told The VOICE that he and Hughes were first introduced some 25 years ago, when Hughes was working for the State Department of Agriculture inspecting bees. Howell needed help with their hives, and Hughes stepped up. He has also helped more than one hundred of people who wanted to start a beehive get started.
“He is just a terrific guy,” Watson says of Hughes.
The mission of Howell Living History Farm is to provide the public with interesting and valuable recreational and educational opportunities. Beekeeping, for the most part, has changed little since the 1890s
In accordance with this mission, they try to keep with traditional cycles. In the spring a farmer would open up the hive, and make sure the bees have survived.
According to Hughes he has been keeping bees for some thirty five years now. In addition to working for the Department of Agriculture, he also teaches classes in beekeeping at Rutgers University.
During the event this year Hughes slowly explained to the attendees some basics of beekeeping.
For example, he said there are three main types of bees. The queen, the drone, and the worker bee. The drone is the only variety of male bee, and his sole purpose is to mate with a queen bee.
The queen bee, contrary to popular belief, has no authority in the hive. Her only job is too lay eggs, possibly thousands in a day.
Worker bees are all female. They do all the tasks necessary for day to day life, gathering pollen, building the hive, feeding the young, and so on.
Although bees may seem fairly unimportant to our everyday lives, in fact bees play a crucial role in the agricultural systems in the U.S. The do the work of pollination that is essential for crops such as corn, which is a cornerstone of American agricultural economy.
Right now bees are facing something called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. According to the American Beekeeping Federation website: “Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States.”
Though the cause of CCD is not yet clear, the need for more investigation into the problem, and more focus on the relevance of bees to our society is clearly needed.
The practices of beekeeping are still handed down generation to generation, which is true for Hughes. He says he got into beekeeping through his father, who owned land and kept bees. Howell Living History Farm is working to bring new interest to beekeeping for a generation that may otherwise be removed from these traditions.