James Rhein’s phone rings again as he walks away to answer a call from a fellow beekeeper in need of advice. On an average day, “The Bee Man,” will receive anywhere from two to 10 calls from beekeepers across the state, never turning anyone away.
James is 72-years old and has had bees for 39 years at his home in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting James and getting a glimpse into the life of a beekeeper. Even at 72, James strolled around the room and showed his wit with feisty one-liners and countless bee facts.
My adventure began in the garage of James’s mother’s home, where he and his wife, Linda, brought a hive to show how honey is extracted. Taking a heated knife, James and Linda took turns removing the cappings (wax that covers cells full of honey) on each side of the frame. After the cappings had been removed, the frames of honey were placed into an extractor, a machine which spins to remove honey from the cells of a comb. After the honey was pulled from the cells and emptied into a bucket, James poured the honey through a strainer, to remove any impurities. When the process is over, the honey is able to be sold as “raw honey.”
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During this process, James and Linda, buzzed around the room at work. “Busy bees” is a fitting description for the frenzied lives they both lead. Although they are both retired, they manage a cattle farm, are active supporters of the local FFA chapter, hold positions in their county Farm Bureau and are active in their church. James teaches beekeeping classes throughout the year for free and both he and Linda serve as officers for the Arkansas Bee Keepers Association. Aside from these commitments, they maintain between 40-50 hives.
James also gave me the opportunity to see the inside of a hive. As he pulled out frames with bees on them, I was shocked to see they didn’t acknowledged us. Instead, the bees shuffled across the comb without losing focus of the task at hand, and (thankfully) without stinging us. Much like James and Linda, the bees never stopped moving.
I was surprised to learn each bee has a specific task they focus on.
Worker bees are females with undeveloped reproductive organs. Aside from laying eggs, they do all the work in the colony and feed and clean the queen. A worker bee only lives to be six weeks old, but can live longer during the winter months when it’s not as active.
The queen bee’s primary purpose is to lay eggs and will lay anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day. Queen bees can live for five to six years in the wild, but commercial bee keepers usually have a new queen every year.
Drones are male bees. Their only job is to mate virgin queens. This only happens once (drones die after mating), and then the queen bee is mated for life. Drones are found in hives during the warm months, but are evicted from the hive in the winter because they no longer serve a purpose.
According to James, a single hive contains 50,000 to 60,000 worker bees, 200 to 500 drones, and one queen.
Bees are remarkable creatures, responsible for about 1/3 of all the food Americans eat.
I now have a newfound respect and appreciation for honeybees and James Rhein, “The Bee Man.”