Food: Nature at work on honeybee farm
Kaw Valley Farm Tour
The Kaw Valley Farm Tour runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The annual event celebrates the diversity and availability of locally grown food in northeast Kansas. The 22 farms on this year’s tour produce a variety of products, including fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, cheese, wine, sod, flour and milk.
Tickets are $10 per vehicle for the weekend. For more information, a complete list of participating farms or to buy tickets online, visit KawValleyFarmTour.org. Tickets also are available at all participating farms.
Buzzing bees blanket the tray of honeycomb in Richard Bean’s bare hands. At close range, their striped abdomens and delicate wings are visible in detail.
After 40 years of keeping bees, Bean still marvels at them.
“Gorgeous creations,” he says.
Spotting the queen, Bean pokes his finger into the mass of insects, gently nudging away some of the worker bees to show her off.
“How does she create 2,000 eggs a day?” he muses. “Machinery that we cannot really, in any way, manufacture — natural machinery.”
Bean’s Blossom Trail Bee Ranch, 669 E. 2100 Road in Baldwin City, will be one of 22 farms open to the public this weekend during the annual Kaw Valley Farm Tour.
Bean sells the honey, bee pollen and honeycomb he raises at the Saturday Lawrence Farmers Market and both Lawrence Hy-Vees, 3504 Clinton Parkway and 4000 W. Sixth St. He harvests his products from about 20 hives he keeps at his home and another 10 or so he has off site.
Bean says he believes bees can sense fear.
Perhaps that’s why he gets along with them.
Bean is not a man who is easily agitated. He’s tall and thin, and moves quietly and deliberately. His voice is soft. He speaks slowly.
He’s calm, even while prying off the lid of a hive of bees whose instincts tell them to sting predators threatening their colony — best in the eye or mouth, the only place they could injure a woolly bear, for example. That’s why Bean wears a hat with face netting, just in case.
“Hi girls,” he says, as the bees swirl around him.
The beekeeper in his hometown of Beloit taught Bean the trade. His first project was removing a colony of unwanted bees from a resident’s shed and moving them into the right equipment so he could keep them for himself.
“Just had a notion I wanted to do it,” Bean said of beekeeping. “I think after a while, you sort of realize it sort of fits your personality.”
In addition to raising his own bees, Bean teaches beekeeping for beginners and gets called a couple times a month to remove bee colonies from homes and trees. If he can keep them alive, which he tries to do, he can relocate the bees to his own hives and harvest their honey.
From time to time, Bean does get stung. He’s learned a little onion juice is the best thing to take the edge off the sting.
“Sometimes I get a little too brave,” he said. “But ... I’ve been around bees long enough that I pretty much respect their instincts.”
On a cool, overcast day last week, most of Bean’s bees were holed up in their hives. He said they like to be warm and they’re more active when it’s hot — but not too hot.
Bean recalled observing his bees during this summer’s most sweltering days.
They wisely did their work before dawn and after dusk, relaxing in the hive during the hottest part of the day.
“They were pretty much beaten down by the heat,” he said. “They respected what it did to them and what it took out of them.”
Seeing nature at work is among Bean’s favorite things about keeping bees.
“You never stop learning,” he said.
Eating honeycomb and bee pollen
Honeycomb can be chewed and swallowed, waxy comb and all, which Bean said is especially soothing for a sore throat. Other suggestions include mashing a piece of comb atop buttered toast, or putting it on apple slices or cheese and crackers.
Eating bee pollen from local flowers is thought to have nutritional and anti-allergenic properties, although some sources recommend consulting a doctor first to avoid an unwanted allergic reaction.
Bean says he eats teaspoons of bee pollen straight from his hives. But he said not everyone likes the grainy texture, preferring to sprinkle it in smoothies or on cereal.
Honeybees — a few facts
• Honeybees perform a waggle dance to communicate the location of food sources that are 100 yards up to two or three miles from the hive.
• In one trip, honeybees visit 100 to 1,500 blossoms to fill their honey crop, an organ separate from their digestive stomach that is used to transport nectar.
• In its entire lifespan, a worker bee produces only 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey.
• In producing just 1 pound of honey, a hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles, equivalent to 1.5 orbits around the earth.
• In winter, bees live on stored honey and pollen and cluster into a ball to conserve warmth, maintaining a hive temperature that’s close to human body temperature.
• The beehive is a “super organism” where all the bees work together as a single entity. A lone bee cannot live on its own outside the hive.
— Source: Richard Bean, Blossom Trail Bee Ranch
— Lawrence Journal-World Features reporter Sara Shepherd can be reached at 785-832-7187. Follow her at Twitter.com/KCSSara.