There are a lot of enjoyable activities to do in the summer – golfing, fishing, gardening, barbequing, going to the cabin… my list includes taking care of bees.
My husband Brian and I are apiarists. That’s a fancy name for beekeepers. We put on gloves, boots and bee suits that cover us from head to toe, and spend time managing the dozen beehives that we have set up on our property.
Here’s how the process works. In the spring, we travel to Stillwater and purchase boxes of bees from a distributor. The boxes come with about 5,000 worker bees and one queen bee.
The queen comes in a special cage of her own with a cork in the end of it. When we put the bees into their hives, we cannot immediately release the queen in with the other bees. The queen bee gives off a pheromone, a special smell that all the other bees are not familiar with yet, but they are learning to recognize it. If she was released too early, the other bees would kill her. What we do is replace the cork with a marshmallow and place her little cage in the hive with the rest of the bees. The bees eat their way through the marshmallow, and by the time they get to her, they totally know the smell of her pheromone and they serve her and her only.
The hive grows to a full capacity of 60,000 bees. The majority of those bees are called worker bees, which are all females. The queen bee is confined to the bottom boxes of the hive and has the job of laying eggs. Lots and lots of eggs, up to 1,500/day! The hive also includes male bees or drones. They are mostly produced in the spring and their job, you guessed it, is to mate with the queen.
The bees spend their days visiting flowers and collecting nectar and pollen. They travel up to three miles from their hive in search of their treasure. When they come back to the hive, in the darkness of the hive boxes, they perform a special “bee dance” that communicates to the other bees where to find good sources of nectar, what direction to fly and how far to go.
As the bees continue their work, we add boxes to the top of the hives, which the bees use to store their honey. They create perfect six-sided waxy hexagons into the pattern of the honeycomb. They deposit the honey inside the comb, beating their wings above the honey to remove water, and when the moisture content in the honey is just right (<17.8%), they seal the honeycomb with wax. We use a special instrument to check the moisture content of the honey. The bees get it right without using a fancy gadget.
After Labor Day, the days get shorter and cooler, and the amount of nectar producing flowers is reduced, it’s time to harvest the honey. The reader’s digest version of this process is that we remove the honey boxes and sweep off the bees into the lower boxes with the queen. We bring the boxes inside, cut off the wax with a hot knife and spin the honeycomb in an extractor. We pour the honey through a couple of filters and then pour it into glass jars, ready for us to enjoy throughout the year. It’s a sticky, delicious process!
The incredible complexity and intricacy of the beehive is something that we can all see and experience, and the remarkable design and organization is truly amazing!
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! – Psalm 119:103
When Psalm 119 was written, over 2,000 years ago, I’m guessing the writer did not know about all the intricacies of the beehive. I think he saw bees go into a hole and knew that delicious honey could be harvested and enjoyed. Since he did not have the option of going to Hy-Vee and easily getting any type of food item he could imagine, the ability to have the delicious, sweet honey available was both a luxury and a delicacy.
The psalmist writes about his love for God’s word. How it gives him wisdom, insight, understanding, purity, freedom from sin, delight, truth, freedom, and hope. That’s quite a list! At one point he compares the sweetness of God’s Word to honey, making the point that as delicious as honey is, God’s Word is sweeter.
I love verses that refer to the created world in order to make a biblical point. My husband and I call these “Visible Verses.” We love them because they help us to experience and remember God’s Word by viewing the things around us. For example, when I am putting a teaspoon of honey in my tea, or spreading some on toast, instead of thinking only about the food item I am about to enjoy, I think of God’s Word and the sweetness of it. How it is truth that brings life and sustenance. How it can guide my steps and strengthen my faith.
If I’m putting honey on a graham cracker for one of my precious grandkids, I can not only give them a delicious treat, but also teach them about how the Bible compares God’s truth to the sweetness of honey.
The next time you enjoy honey, give praise to God for His amazing creation and good gifts! Thank Him for the sweet and saving truth of His Word. Ask Him to help you to grow deeper in your faith as you see truths from scripture come alive in the world around you.
- Honey bees are the only insect that produces food consumed by humans.
- A honey bee visits between 50 and 100 flowers during one collection flight from the hive.
- In order to produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited.
Q. Do you get stung?
A. Sometimes. The bees are calm in the spring, when their hives are new and not filled with honey. They are busy gathering pollen and nectar, and don’t mind so much when we mess around near their hive. When it’s fall and they have spent the whole summer making honey, they get quite cranky when we take it away. You can hear it in their angry buzz! And sometimes their little stingers make it through our bee suits. Or if we aren’t careful with our zippers, we can get a bee in our bonnet!
Q. Do you take all the honey from the bees?
A. No. We leave them with enough honey to eat and live on in the winter. We wrap the hive in a thermal blanket before the temperature gets cold. If all goes well they will huddle up in a ball around the queen for the winter, beat their wings to keep her warm, and come back out of the hive in the spring.
Q. Are there other Bible verses that refer to honey?
A. Yes, honey is mentioned in the Bible many times. A nice devotion would be to spend time looking up those verses and pondering the word pictures scripture uses between honey and biblical truth.