Robb and I are members of the Alameda Beekeepers' Association, even though we don't actually have our own bees yet. Today, the club offered a class for beginning beekeepers. Sara Willis kindly hosted at her house in the Oakland hills. She's got a beautiful wooded property, which is home to about a dozen hives. (She's also got the 1920s stove of my dreams moldering outside her garage, but nevermind that.)
Sara and Bob Ballard (who gave me my first glimpse inside a beehive, back in October) graciously spent several hours going over the basics of beekeeping. It was a beautiful warm day, just great for opening up a hive. Even so, Sara made sure to cover her hive (with a highly technical tea towel) to hold in heat. Bees thermo-regulate, keeping their hives about 95º, and while it was warm today, it certainly wasn't that hot! Right now, bee colonies are starting to raise the next generation of bees, and we certainly didn't want to chill the brood. (Here's a link to an article on how bees regulate the temperatures inside their hives.)
This certainly isn't a great photograph, but it does show the "nurse" bees, hard at work taking care of brood. On the right side of the photograph are closed-over wax cells, containing developing (female) workers. And the larger, open cells that are to the left of the capped cells will hold developing (male) drones. You can tell it hasn't been used, we're told, because the edges are nice and smooth. A cell that a bee has hatched from will show evidence of the bee chewing its way out.
Here's a great illustration, showing the developmental cycle of the European Honeybee. I will admit that one thing that had me worried about my ability to be a good beekeeper was my squeamishness with all things maggot-y. I wasn't sure if I could deal with all that larva. So far, I'm finding it fascinating, and not as disgusting as I had feared.
Sara doesn't wear a protective veil or gloves, and it was truly inspiring to see the gentle manner in which she handled her bees. When a beekeeper opens a hive for an inspection, they are moving around all of the architecture of the bees' home. It's as if a giant hand reached down, pulled off your roof, and one-by-one removed and inspected every single room in your home. This has the potential to be terribly disruptive, and injurious for the bees. Sara delicately urged the bees out of her way, working carefully and without any sudden movements. This is the part that I worry about. How does one learn this grace, except through damaging clumsiness?