The embarrassing backstory on the bee story: A closer, clueless look at a hive

Ligaya Figueras is all geared up to visit a bee hive until she was informed her veil was on backwards. Oops! Photo by Armani Martin

Journalists accrue valuable knowledge from years covering the same beat. That doesn’t necessarily make them experts, though.

I was reminded of this recently while researching a story on the state of honey bees and the national and local efforts to advocate for pollinators. 

I’ve tasted honey. I’ve been stung by bees. I am not, however, a beekeeper.

My lack of knowledge about beekeeping became quite apparent when I tagged along on a beehive inspection with Atlanta beekeeper Steve Esau of Little Bee Project. It was a humbling couple of hours that became more laughable with every passing minute.

 

Let’s start with the attire. I showed up at the hive near Ormewood Park dressed exactly as Esau instructed: loose-fitting long sleeve shirt and pants, close-toed shoes. He would provide a veil and gloves, he said.

You don’t have to be an astute reporter to tell right away that you don’t fit in. The rest of the group, all hobbyist beekeepers, were wearing white space suits. The right kind of white space suits. Space age white gloves, too. I stood out like a sore thumb wearing those Smurf blue medical ones.

But, oh, the excitement of this assignment! I had The Atlanta Journal-Constitution videographer Armani Martin snap a photo of me. She asked me to do the same for her. We were mighty proud.

Until I discovered that we were wearing our veils backward.

The rest of them were discreet enough not to laugh aloud. Armani and I did laugh as Esau fixed my hooding.  And thank goodness, because you can’t see a lick out of the white netting. Only through the black portion of netting is anything visible.

As we were walking to the hive, we chatted with another beekeeper who tried to calm us – I was unnerved with the thought of getting stung. (I still remember the photo that a beekeeper friend sent me a few years back after a swarm of bees got inside his veil. Both of his eyes were swelled up the size of golf balls.) He advised that if the bees came out and made a roaring sound, it would be a good idea to step slowly away. Bees buzz. They don’t roar. Really, they can roar? I can’t tell you how many times I tightened and adjusted the neck cord of the veil.

And then, the moment came that the bees did come out. I had my camera ready on video mode. But as soon but a few of the winged creatures came near me, I did a 180 and the view of the hive became one of the surrounding green space. Mainly grass.

The beekeepers oohed and aahed over what they witnessed as Esau lifted panels, found the queen bee and chatted about the health of the hives (one had collapsed, the other was thriving). The same beekeeper who had tried to qualm our fear earlier held a drone on his glove. Drones don’t sting so he offered it to me to hold. I felt like a five-year-old kid whose parents wanted her to appreciate beets. Not happening. Gimme a few years.

Wouldn’t you know, I dropped it. I looked on the ground. Couldn’t find it. I’m of the mindset that every grain of rice matters, ergo, every bee must matter, too. I couldn’t locate it, though. I hope it found its way into the hive. I really hope I didn’t step on it.

A 90-minute visit to a hive will teach you a lot. But I still had questions. Basic, stupid questions that I was scared to ask, but needed to know. I had looked up and down the hives. I had watched Esau open the hives. Yet, for the life of me, I could not figure out how the bees got into the hives. And there were a bunch of stragglers that were going to need to get back into their home. So I asked the dumb question: “Where is the entrance to the hive?”

It was at the bottom. And there were two entrances: a larger one in the corner and a bee-sized one in the middle. To my defense, the entrance was on the opposite side of where I was standing. But really, “Where is the entrance to the hive?”

Clueless.

Clueless managed to write a bee story, but she won’t be raising bees any time soon.

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