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Explore This IssueApril 2014
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At the beginning of 2013, Kathleen Ferrell planted an idea in the mind of her husband, Rick Brasington, MD. Ms. Ferrell is the past president of the St. Louis Herb Society and a master gardener at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and she wanted to make honey from the lavender plants in their herb garden.
There was just one key ingredient missing: bees.
One conversation led to another, and Dr. Brasington, a rheumatologist and fellowship program director at Washington University in St. Louis, found himself attending several meetings sponsored by the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association. He received a crash course on beekeeping, spoke with others in the profession, read at least 10 books on the subject and became so intrigued with the bee culture that by April, the couple had become beekeepers.
Since then, Dr. Brasington says his learning curve has shot straight up. Despite getting stung several times—once to the point where his right arm became swollen from his elbow to his knuckles—he says bees are basically docile creatures and don’t like to be disturbed. They’re simply too busy working.
The barrier to entry for beekeeping is not only thick skin, but roughly $1,000 for protective gear, equipment and a nucleus of bees, called “nucs,” which is a colony of bees with its own queen and baby bees that are incubating, all prepared by another beekeeper.
Dr. Brasington explains that the process of making honey rests on the wings of the colony’s queen bee.
When the queen makes her virgin flight, drones, or male bees, fertilize her in mid-air. She may mate with up to 10 drones in sequence. After they inseminate her, they pull away, fall to the ground and die. A good queen can lay 1,500 eggs a day.
“The male bees are pretty useless,” Dr. Brasington says. “All they do is inseminate the queen and fall over dead. It’s up to the females to take care of things. The males just can’t be counted on to get things done.”
Dr. Brasington describes man-made beehives as white, wooden structures that resemble a filing cabinet with hanging files. Each structure usually contains 10 wooden frames that are vertically dropped inside the structure. Bees build a honeycomb in the middle of each frame, which supports a wax or plastic foundation. The cells in the honeycomb are used for rearing young bees and storing honey.
The first level of the structure houses the bees. The second contains the frames, which are full of honey that bees consume during the winter months. Above that are smaller boxes, referred to as supers, which also store additional honey that can be harvested by the beekeeper.