Monday, June 27, 2005


The past few days have been the opposite of my normal life: I have been outdoors, standing up, and talking to hundreds of people. In fact, I have been teasing them that this is a Bee-vangelical tent meeting, trying to encourage all of them to keep bees, since "We, the Hobbyists" may in fact be the salvation of the honeybee.

Background: every year in this city, there is a major festival downtown in a famous park area, and I volunteered to help at the exhibit (sorry for the lack of details... not trying to be cute, just trying not to show up in search engine results involving "my city name" +bees).

The beekeeping club that offered the beginners' course has a tent there with a screened in colony of bees, and a live person demonstrating beekeeping. The bees were raised by one of the master beekeepers specifically for the festival, which has "American Food Culture" as one of its themes. We are in the "Honey" area, a place sponsored by a young entrepreneur with a pricey line of honey and no experience with bees.

But hey, he is the reason why we got this opportunity to have a fabulous time!

Our club was brought into this kind of late, and it truly did not look good. We had no volunteers organized, the equipment question was WAY up in the air, and the festival organizers did not take seriously our requirement that an Epi-Pen be available if we were going to bring live bees. So the main honcho for our club got me to organize the people to staff the booth, he worked on equipment, and the master beekeeper put together the colony. And the public did the rest.

We have been mobbed by intelligent, interested people of every age and background. We have had terrific questions, great feedback, and have reached out to a lot of people who may decide to keep bees. It's sad to confess, but since the last election I have had a very low opinion of the average citizen of this country. This whole thing is turning my head around. I have been asked things by children that I could not answer without the textbook, and wonderful stories, expressions of concern for bees, and delighted reactions have come from grown adults. The volunteers, most of whom had their doubts, have had a great time, and some have found themselves lingering for hours after their half-day shifts. "Time seemed suspended" is a frequent observation.

My job, now that the festival is going, is to show up at start and closing each day to be sure that the volunteers know where stuff is, what to do, and how to close down, as well as to be present for several shifts to demonstrate different parts of "the bee experience" and to answer questions.

My main presentations have been about the "observation frame" and "extracting honey." The former is a small tabletop glass box where we have put a single frame of brood each day in order to show people the development stages of bees. The kids particularly like this. We talk about the life cycle, ask folks if they can spot eggs, larvae, or emerging bees, and point out the differences between workers and drones. I invite people to sniff the frame, because bees smell good and it is a way to really connect with the reality of these living things. I say, "It's all made of flowers and sugar, how can that be bad?"

It was kind of funny that I was pressed into service on "extraction" as well, since the only time I ever did it was at ONE beekeeper club meeting. Apparently my memory is still OK though, because I was able to remember the process and actually quite a bit of detail!

In case you all want to benefit from my "wisdom," I will be grabbing pictures of the frame and the extraction equipment during my next shift, and will put HTML versions of the presentations in the linked files at right.

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