Eager for every pollen-sized bit of information, second-grade students at Payson Elementary School buzzed eagerly around beekeeper David Jones, bedecked in his white suit and headgear that made him look like an astronaut.
“If I didn’t wear all of this, I’d be stung all over,” said Jones.
Jones, of Sunflower Honey fame, came to help the students understand insects as they study the topic for their science unit.
“He’s come for the last few years,” said second-grade teacher Brianne DeWitt.
Jones brought a hive, minus the bees, filled with slats riddled with honeycomb imprints on the plastic sheets that line the inside of the individual combs to illustrate how he keeps his bees.
Beekeepers in modern times use plastic sheets with the start of a honeycomb imprinted to help the bees form the beeswax honeycombs.
Jones brought honeycombs in various states of completeness — from empty to full of honey.
He told the children to carefully hold the honeycombs at the edges so as not to destroy the bees’ work.
When the children asked how he collected the honey, he launched into an explanation.
First, he uses smoke to cause the bees to panic into believing their hive is on fire. In their state of panic, they gorge on honey, filling their bellies so full they cannot curl up to sting.
After pulling the honeycomb out of the hive, Jones uses a brush to remove the gorged bees from the honeycomb. A hot knife melts the wax off of the honeycombs so Jones can collect the honey.
The children stared in awe at the knife.
Jones dumps the honeycombs into a large drum that separates the wax from the sweet, golden honey.
“In the olden days, they called this ‘robbing the bees’,” said Jones, “I call it charging rent because I built the apartment.”
He went on to explain that he only takes honey from the top two levels of the hive, because the queen tends to lay her eggs on the bottom two layers.
“Have you seen a queen?” asked one of the children.
“Yes...(but) Queen will hide from me because she knows she’s the future of that colony,” said Jones.
In a year with normal rainfall, Jones said he has enough hives to collect more than 20 gallons of honey — enough to sell at the local Farmers Market and health food stores.
This year, however, because of the lack of rainfall over the winter and spring, the wildflower crop left much to be desired, especially for the bees.
He only collected four gallons, barely enough to cover his family’s personal use.
Recent studies of the Southwest region show that as temperatures rise, rainfall and water tables will decline.
That’s bad news not only for the forest and trees, but for the bees and beekeepers too.
Still, Jones said he will continue to keep bees. He’s loved them since childhood when he watched a bee collect pollen from a flower, even though his investigations earned him a sting.
“Do they ever get into your mask?” asked a second-grader.
“Yes, and then I go home with my face swollen up and my wife will laugh at me,” he said.