After photographing my wife and son conducting a bee box inspection I decided to make beekeepers my new personal project. Philadelphia is a great city for beekeeping due to the large number of trees and gardens in the area, and it is steeped in beekeeping history. L.L. Langstroth, considered to be the “Father of American Beekeeping” and the inventor of the modern beehive was born in Germantown and spent much of his life in Philadelphia. Another reason for undertaking the project is that honeybees are receiving much more attention in the media due to an alarming decrease in their population know as Colony collapse disorder. You can learn more about CCD and what you can do to help by watching this TED talk Why Bees Are Disappearing by Maria Spivak. Thanks to Don Schump, President of The Philadelphia Bee Company for the link.
To continue the project I needed to figure out how to make photographs without worrying about getting stung. Though not ideal, I realized I could take photos while wearing a beekeeper’s veil. All I had to do was try to ignore the nylon mesh between my eye and the camera.Rather than buy a full-length suit I learned that I really only needed a jacket hat and veil. I could wear a baggy pair of pants and stuff the legs into my socks to prevent unwanted bee entry to my nether regions. I ordered a jacket, hat and veil combo from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in Lancaster County.
While I could live with wearing the jacket and veil I did not want to wear gloves, as I would not be able to operate the tiny buttons and dials on my camera. I had done some research online and I read where some beekeepers rubbed vinegar on their hands to repel bees so I bought a gallon at the local Shoprite for all of 99 cents. Not only did I look silly but I smelled like a salad as well. While not quite ready for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, I was ready to take on anything with six legs, wings and a stinger.
In addition to the proper attire I also learned the value of a good smoker. A smoker is a metal can fitted with a bellows that has a funnel shaped lid. Various materials can be burned in the can to produce smoke that can be blown into the hive. The smoke helps to mask the alarm pheromone released by guard bees. It also switches the bees from attack mode to hive abandonment mode as they think the hive is on fire. Puffed with smoke bees will immediately turn their attention to gorging themselves on honey in anticipation of hive abandonment. Not only are they distracted but their abdomens are distended making it difficult to make the necessary flexes to sting.On a few occasions I put down the camera and picked up the smoker to fend off particularly aggressive bees.
After a few more sessions photographing my wife and son with our bees I decided to reach out to other local beekeepers. I posted a few photos on the Philadelphia Beekeeper’s Facebook page and asked for volunteers.The silence was deafening, leaving me to wonder if beekeepers preferred the company of bees to that of fellow humans or at least nosey photographers. I realized I’d have to be more pro-active and call them on the phone. This proved to be a more productive approach and the project expanded beyond my own backyard.