June/July 2012 Cover Girl

Meet cover girl Robin Pratt, an urban homesteader who's learned the ABC's of honey production.

Robin Pratt with backyard beehive

Robin Pratt by Hive

Bee-liever. Robin Pratt finds many benefits in beekeeping. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Jars of various kinds of honey

Honey Jars

The color of honey reflects the nectar that bees harvested to make this natural sweetener. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Robin Pratt lighting bee smoker

Robin Pratt with bee smoker

Fired up. Ready to check on honey production, Robin lights the bee smoker. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Robin Pratt smokes beehive.

Smoking beehive

Smoke signals. Smoking the bees calms them before the hive is opened. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Robin Pratt opens the hive super

Opening beehive

Honey hunt. Robin checks out how industrious her buzzing honey makers have been. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Robin Pratt checks a frame from beehive for honey

Looking at frame from beehive

Super stars. The frames in the hive's top box, called the "super," contain combs of cells that the bees fill with honey. Photography by Jim Wieland.

Robin Pratt replaces the super on beehive

Putting the super on beehive

Striking gold. A full honey super weighs from 80 to 100 pounds.

 

Robin Pratt is generating quite a buzz around her peaceful neighborhood in Athens, Georgia. Since she moved in—lock, stock and beehives—life has never been sweeter.

“The first time I checked my honeybees after moving here, I looked up to see a half dozen neighbors watching from the edge of my lawn,” Robin recalls. “Now they come up right to the hive to chat. I’ve found beekeeping is a great way to meet people.” Seven years ago, Robin left a successful job as a website designer in downtown Atlanta to work for the College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia-Athens. That’s also where the nature-loving young mom got a real bee in her bonnet.

“I signed up for a beekeeping course offered by our ag extension,” she recalls. “In the first 10 minutes of class, I got the bee itch. I began with a starter kit, including a hive and keepers’ accessories. Then I got 4,000 bees for $50 from a farm that raises them for sale. I introduced the queen to her new kingdom—my backyard beehive.”

Humming Along

The compact white hive consists of three stacked boxes, each containing 10 frames. The bees build wax combs inside the frames. The two bottom boxes, called “deeps,” are where the queen lays her eggs, and where the bee brood develops into grown bees. The top box, called the “super,” contains combs of hexagonal cells that the bees fill with honey.

“I’m in awe of the queen bee,” Robin says. “She’s the heart and soul of the colony. After mating, she returns to the hive and can lay 2,000 eggs in a day during spring. “The unfertilized eggs become male drones, while the fertilized ones turn into female worker bees that collect food to feed the colony.”

In Georgia, the bees’ pollen and nectar sources are a mix of everything that blooms from early spring through summer, including wild cherry, locust, tulip poplar, kudzu, clover, privet, wildflowers and more. “I love to pull out the frames and see them filled with pollen in a rainbow of colors—red, pink, neon green and school-bus yellow,” she says. “They remind me of stained glass windows.”

Robin typically harvests in late August, donning canvas gloves, a hat with a screen veil, chambray shirt and corduroy pants. That’s when thousands of daily bee flights over field and meadow pay off in pure gold.

Time Is Honey

“My daughter, Sadie, who’s 5, is absolutely fearless around bees, so she’s a big help at harvest time,” Robin notes. “I use an old-fashioned method, scraping the honeycomb off the frame and into a strainer. It sits over a big pot for several hours until most all the honey has drained out. Then Sadie helps me pour the honey into sterilized mason jars. We freeze the wax to make candles later.”

She harvests only three of the 10 frames, leaving the rest to nourish the bees in winter. Of the six pints she nets, she keeps two and pours the rest into jelly jars, for gifts or trading with neighbors. “A great thing about Athens is our underground economy based on bartering,” Robins says. “I’ve traded a couple of jars of honey for homemade bread, homegrown veggies, a winter’s worth of firewood, and lessons in everything from canning to rain barrel making.

“I’m so thankful to my bees for demonstrating what a working, functional society is. We humans can be individualistic and isolated at times. The bees prove that we have to work together to make something as golden as honey. There’s a place and a role for everyone.”

Wanna be a beekeeper? For more information, check out this summary of beekeeping benefits and the fascinating story of how queen bees are raised.

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