Bijentelt met Mohamed (Beekeeping with Mohamed)

Paige and I recently had the opportunity to work with Mohamed, a professional beekeeper (“imker” in Dutch) with over 300 hives scattered throughout the Netherlands. Mohamed came to the Netherlands from Syria ten years ago. Today he has a thriving business selling honey and beeswax, teaching beekeeping, renting his bees as crop pollinators, and raising queens. On this day, Mohamed needed help moving 35 hives full of honey and bees, and we tagged along to help.

Mohamed opening a very busy hive.

It was one of the hottest days of the summer here in the Netherlands, and the bees were quite active. We started by checking the hives to see if they were full of honey. If bees run out of space in the hive, they will swarm and leave in search of more room. To prevent this, Mohamed added supers (the boxes that make up the hive) and frames (the thin inserts in each super) to the tops of the hives, providing much-needed space for the bees to expand.

When bees run out of space on the frames, they will build comb between the “supers” or boxes that make up the hive.

While Mohamed added more supers, he inspected the bees for evidence of deadly varroa mites. Fortunately, we found none. Mohamed, like all beekeepers, treats his bees with oxalic acid vapor early in the season to kill the mites before they can become an infestation.

Healthy bees bearding at the front of the hive. This thermoregulatory behavior is meant to cool the hive and themselves.

In this hive, he let the bees form their own comb. Depending on the substrate available, the comb can take many different shapes.

A hive without frames in the top super. The bees get to decide for themselves how and where to build their combs.
When provided with a frame, the bees will build flat sheets of comb. Typically, beekeepers (including Mohamed) provide the first layer of comb in the form of wax or plastic so the bees built perfect combs that are easier to harvest at the end of the season.
Paige staying safe. Despite the suit, she was stung 4 times.
Paige checking out some bees.
Mohamed is hardly affected by the stings of bees. Here he examines a male drone bee. Drone bees have a singular task–impregnate the queen. At the end of the season, these bees are killed by the female workers and they pile up at the front of the hive.

By 8 pm, the bees were quite upset with our presence. We took a short break and waited for the sun to set. Generally the bees return to their hives at dusk. We had to move all 35 hives five meters to comply with Dutch law, and some weighed more than 100 kilos.

Mohamed preparing the smoker for action. Smoke calms the bees, but it isn’t 100% effective.

Under the cover of darkness, we moved each hive. I was stung at least 8 times and Paige was stung 4 times, but for Mohamed it was just another day with the bees.

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