The Buzz about Calleva’s Bees

Have you heard the buzz? The Calleva farm is getting a few new residents, and when I say a few I mean around 70,000! Now I know that seems like a lot, but when the little critters are the size of your thumbnail they won’t take up too much space. We’re super excited to be installing 7 new beehives in and around our farm this spring, as well as adding a great new resource to our agricultural education programs.

Growing up in Bethesda I was pretty far away from any farms. We had a small garden in our back yard for growing tomatoes, but other than that the only thing in people’s yards was your friendly neighborhood dogs. The “homesteading” movement hadn’t caught on yet so there were no suburban backyard chicken flocks or large productive gardens replacing grass lawns, but next door to us we did have something a little out of the ordinary. Standing in our neighbors yard, just a few feet from our chain link fence, stood 3 large white beehives. Not typically what you’d find in a Bethesda backyard in the late 90’s, but there they stood with bees buzzing in and out on those warm sunny days.

At first my brothers and I mostly tried to avoid those hives. Anytime someone would miss a catch and the lacrosse ball would soar across that fence, it was like the scene from the Sandlot. We’d try to slide a defenders long pole lacrosse stick over to see if we could reach it, but after a few failed attempts someone would have to lace up their shoes tight, jump the fence, and quickly try to retrieve the ball before the swarm attacked. Of course we’d make a big deal out of the situation, but honestly there wasn’t much to be afraid of. The bees didn’t really bother us at all, and soon we grew to appreciate them once the honey started flowing. Just like the bees we had to work for our honey by riding our bikes around town selling and delivering bottles of that beautiful golden nectar to folks, but it was worth it in order to receive our own supply. The coolest part was to think that the honey we were eating could have come from the azaleas in our front yard or the big cherry blossom across the street. That was my introduction to the beauty of beekeeping.

Now 20 years later I’m excitedly standing next to the Calleva Activity Barn, about to crack into my first beehive to perform an inspection on the health of the colony. I’m a little nervous since it’s not something I’ve ever done before, but it’s refreshing to be “out of my comfort zone” since normally I’m the one telling others to do so. After a few puffs of smoke the bees just happily buzz around our heads while we pry open the stuck boxes and pull out a frame covered in honeycomb. The sweet smell of honey hangs in the warm air as we go through one by one pulling up and inspecting the 30 different frames that make up the hive. Before we know it everything ‘s back together and the bee’s return to flying in and out, depositing the pollen and nectar from the flowering forsythia growing all around. The experience was an awesome one, however it makes me sad that as a youth I didn’t ask to help my neighbor while he inspected his hives or harvested honey. There was so much knowledge I could have gleaned from him that now I have to figure out on my own. 

While I may have regrets from not taking advantage of past situations, the great thing is that through Calleva I’ll be able to share the knowledge I now know with all the many campers and school students who come to the farm. In our future classroom they’ll be able to take a firsthand look into an observational hive and see the bees busy at work, as well as help to harvest the honey from off the frames. They’ll have the opportunity to learn all the things I wish I had about these beautiful pollinators without having to wait the 20 years like me. So next time you’re out around the Calleva Farm and you hear a buzz, its just our little bees hard at work making our gardens more beautiful and our farm a little bit sweeter.

Author: Dave “Brokeback” Harding