I grew up on a farm. Most of my childhood was spent outside playing with my siblings or helping with chores. Needless to say, I was exposed to the “elements” at a young age, and I certainly wasn’t afraid of bugs or critters (so long as they weren’t in my bed). Bites and rashes and cuts and bruises were just part of the daily routine as a kid on the farm. I was only stung once – or rather twice at once – by a couple of yellow jackets after I ran over a bridge under which their nest was built. But this experience aside, I was never really phased by bees; especially pretty little bumble or honey bees that I knew didn’t want to harm anyone (unlike mischievous wasps).

Honey bees with pollen attached to legs
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This little bee has an orange pollen granule attached to its leg – probably from a dandelion!

Regardless of my exposure to bugs, I had an unsettling feeling in my stomach when Danny and Ginette (owners of Paradis Valley Honey and my bosses) asked if I wanted to come tour an actual bee yard. Of course I wanted to! I knew it was nothing to be afraid of; I knew there would be a thrill and a satisfaction to it. But the idea of marching into an airfield of hundreds of thousands of honeybees was like no experience I had ever imagined myself getting into.

Suiting up

Before approaching the bees, we parked a ways away to be able to suit up in peace. Danny assured me that the bees were feeding, and were very calm as a result. So calm, he said, that I could probably walk into them without a suit on. I wasn’t about to take my chances. From where I could see, the bees didn’t look too inviting.

Workers in the bee yard
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Two Paradis Valley Honey employees hard at work!

Smoking out the honey bees to keep them calm
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Bee smokers allow beekeepers to work while the colony’s defensive response is interrupted.

He handed me a pair of long gloves that I gladly pulled all the way up to my elbows. But upon seeing my camera, he offered me a pair of tiny blue neoprene gloves to more easily snap photos. Without hesitation, I requested to keep the heavy-duty gloves instead and insisted they’d work just fine! Ginette applied a couple small pieces of duct tape to the suit’s zipper openings – just in case ­– and taped the bottom of my pants to my boots. I was ready.

Bees can be calm?

Moments later, I found myself walking into a loud, constant hum. I remember Ginette telling me to look up. THOUSANDS of bees flew rapidly above me, around me, beside me, and yes, even landed on me. But Danny was right… they seemed… calm! I watched as the other beekeepers at the yard site checked on the hives’ health and replenished the feeders. The bees weren’t attacking anyone. They seemed to barely notice anything was happening at all! They went about their business, and we went about ours. It was so exhilarating!

Girl in bee yard
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Don’t I look relaxed?

Introducing a queen bee to her new colony
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This little box is what new queen bees arrive; the box is placed in the hive to introduce a queen to her new colony.

While Danny was educating me about how the whole operation works, I caught myself with my shoulders still shrugged and my whole body tense. I remembered how sealed the suit was, and let myself relax. Yes, I was relaxed (more or less) among dozens of colonies of bees. It is possible. I tried to take in everything Danny was saying as it was so intriguing, but there was so much information to process! The complexity of the entire honey process was a little too much to retain in one afternoon.

Honey bee larvae and bees hatching from their cells
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Can you spot the bee larvae in the cells?

I “survived” the bee yard!

We ended up with a ton of cool photos, though probably an equal number that were out of focus due to the fact that I couldn’t see well out of the suit. While we were in the bee yard, we inspected the hives, found a couple of queen bees, watched some baby bees hatch out of their cells (so neat!), introduced a queen to her new colony, and then implemented some pollen traps and honey supers. When we left, I remember feeling relieved – for not getting stung, for even stepping foot in the bee yard in the first place, and for surviving a bee yard so to speak!

Two women in the honey bees
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Ginette and I peacefully sitting amongst the busy bees!

Changing misconceptions about bees

In all honesty, though, there was nothing to really be afraid of! The weather was ideal, the bees were fed and happy, and the suit I was wearing kept me safe from the sting of the odd bee that was annoyed with my presence. In hindsight, I definitely consider it to be a bucket-list item. I would recommend touring a bee yard to anyone who wants a rush, who wants/needs to get over their fear of bees, or who wants to know all there is to know about the operation of the hive and the honey process!

So now I want to know… based on my experience, would you tour a bee yard? If so, what would you like to learn? And if not, why?! Tell me in the comments below!

-Kira

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