Family tradition sweetens honey harvest
By STEPHEN KWOH
SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: September 17, 2004)
Mike Dillon stood in his back yard yesterday examining the hive where some of his 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees were swarming.
The bees seemed not to mind the presence of Dillon or his 7-year-old son, Jesse, and 3-year-old daughter, Lea, who wore protective veils as they stood by the white box encasing the hive.
"Honeybees are really very gentle creatures," said Dillon, 41, an Orangetown Highway Department equipment operator and part-time beekeeper. "I'll go out and open the hive and stuff like that â€” and you're talking really going down into it â€” and maybe I'll get one or two stings, and other times I don't get any stings. They're really very calm."
The 4-by-2-foot box is home to a thriving hive, a jumble of yellow and brown commotion, all bustling, scurrying and fluttering in a flurry of organization. The box contains nine wooden frames holding the honeycomb.
A hive consists of a strict hierarchy, Dillon explained yesterday, presided over by the queen, a few hundred drones â€” male bees responsible for fertilization â€” and thousands of female workers who build and maintain the colony, feed the larvae and forage, sometimes miles away, to gather the nectar that they digest to produce the honey.
"There's no chaos in the hive," said Dillon's wife, Susan. "They're so busy working, they all have jobs. It's so structured, there's no fooling around, no laziness. They work so hard, they wear themselves out.
"From the time they're born to the time they die is about three months, but they just keep multiplying," added Susan Dillon, 39. "The queen lays about 1,500 eggs a day. It's really a lot. Sometimes you'll see a crazy bee just driven from the hive. I'll ask Mike what's going on, and he'll say 'bad bee' or something."
The Dillons are in the process of gathering 4 gallons of honey, the fruition of two seasons' work, to be stored in jars and given to friends and family.
This year's harvest is especially sweet, as he is introducing the hobby to his children. It's a family tradition that reaches back 30 years, when Dillon's father taught him the secrets of beekeeping.
"It was just great memories, keeping bees with my dad, and I want them to be able to experience the same," he said. "They haven't gotten stung yet, so it may all change with the first sting, but they love going back and looking at them. They enjoy whenever we do stuff, whether it's putting the frames together or anything else with the honeybees."
Jesse added, "It's really fun to see how bees can do all this stuff on their own without any help, to experience what bees are like, and what they do for a living. My dad's dad taught him and he taught me, and then I'll teach my sons, and it'll go on and on till, you know, Judgment Day."