Albert J. Pennington, 76, of Danese has been stung quite a few times over the years, but the apiary owner doesn’t let a few angry bees get in the way of his honey harvest.
Pennington has some 28 beehives in his backyard that keep his customers coming back for more of the sweet, syrupy substance bees make as food from the nectar of flowers. It’s not unusual for customers to call from as far away as Philadelphia to purchase his products.
It’s best not to eat a banana just before working with bees, Pennington offers in way of advice.
It seems to have the same odor as that of the bees when they are alarmed.
That’s a tip from a veteran bee man who has been collecting honey from his bee hives for more than two decades.
You could even say that the home of June and Albert Pennington of Danese is a veritable beehive of activity in itself.
That’s because honey lovers from all around the Penningtons’ homestead have beaten a path to the couple’s front door. “Right before you taste our honey,” Pennington says, “a moment exists that is almost as sweet as the honey itself. It’s called sweet anticipation.”
Pennington explains that apiary owners were kind of on the ropes for a few years, while honeybees were plagued with mites. But Russian bees have now been imported into the U.S., because they are resistant to mites that have wiped out so many hives of bees.
“The aggressive behavior of the Russian bees is a problem, but it’s better than not having any bees at all,” Pennington says.
Do beekeepers ever get stung while working with bees? “Yes, sometimes many times,” the beekeeper says with a laugh.
And does it hurt much? “Yes, but we’ve been stung so many times that it doesn’t bother us as much as one who hasn’t built up resistance to the venom.”
What is the best kind of honey?
It’s all good, according to Pennington. Some is just better than others.
For instance, he notes that many people from this area enjoy clover and sourwood honey best. But he says, “they could be missing out on a treat. Poplar or blackberry honey also has an excellent taste, even though it’s a little darker.”
Are honeybees any trouble to residents?
“Sometimes a colony of honeybees will occupy the walls of a house or outbuilding,” Pennington explains. “The best way to remove them is to call a beekeeper.”
He adds, “Bees away from their hive are not inclined to sting and usually sting only when they are injured or stepped on.”
Honeybees are useful in other ways besides producing honey, according to Pennington. “Beeswax is used in the making of lipstick,” he says. “Candles made out of beeswax seem to glow brighter and with less smoke than other candles.”
Pennington notes there are about 120,000 honeybees in a strong hive. A queen will lay an estimated 2000 to 3000 eggs each day during the spring and summer.
The amiable apiary owner has nearly 30 beehives in his backyard, but the number is far too low to provide a living for a beekeeper’s family, Pennington says.
“I’m only a backyard beekeeper. To earn a living as a beekeeper, one must have a minimum of 1600 hives.”
All in all, though, Pennington is a professional when it comes to caring for his honeybees. He knows the lingo of the business, and he believes strongly in his product.
“A jar of honey makes an excellent gift for the holidays and birthdays,” he says.
Pennington knows how to enjoy honey at the breakfast table, too.
He tells his customers, “When cooking oatmeal, try putting a spoon full of honey in the water before putting the oats in. It gives it an excellent flavor.”
Here are more interesting facts about bees.
Bees belong to the third largest order, which also includes wasps and ants. Bees are capable of seeing ultraviolent light, which is invisible to humans. The bee can navigate itself even on a cloudy day, by cloud penetrating ultra-violent light.
Bees have feathery like body hairs known as plumose. Females have brushes on their legs, and they use them to remove pollen that sticks to these body hairs.
The pollen is then stored under the abdomen or on the hind legs.
Honey bees use nectar to make honey. Nectar is almost eighty percent water with some complex sugars. In North America, bees get nectar from flowers like clovers, dandelions, berry bushes, and fruit tree blossoms.
Bees use their long, tube-like tongue like a straw to suck the nectar out of the flowers and store it in their “honey stomachs.” Bees actually have two stomachs, one to store honey in and their regular stomachs.
The honey-stomach holds almost 70mg of nectar; when it’s full it weighs almost as much as the bee does.
Honeybees have to visit between 100 and 1500 flowers to fill their honey-stomachs.
After the bees’ stomachs are full, they then go back to the hive where they pass the honey to worker bees.
The worker bees suck the honey out of the honey-stomachs and chew on it for about thirty minutes to make it thicker.
They store it in the honeycomb, fanning it with their wings to make it even thicker.
These fascinating creatures then seal the cylinder off with wax and let the water evaporate, so it will become honey. In a single year, a colony eats between 120 and 200 pounds of the nectar-like result.
Top o’ the morning!