A scent for your thoughts

It is a strange feeling packing away all of your belongings prior to a move. I should be throwing out many of my possessions which I haven’t touched in months, such as the container of granola that I haven’t eaten from in ages, even though the expiration date on it is still a year from now. Some items I forgot existed altogether, such as the gun lock that turned out to be for a different gun than my own, so I stuffed it in the back of a cabinet – It is staying there there. One of my more important possessions that I have kept for a number of years is my “box.” This is a box (actually currently a bag) that whenever I have an experience that I want to remember forever, I put a souvenir inside, and when I want to remember things that I’ve done in the past, I just open it up, look inside, and its all there.

A look inside of my glorious box, which is currently a bag.

Interestingly, this is not where I came across a memory that evoked a strong nostalgic response in me, in fact it was my junk drawer that I came across this memory.

Between 9th and 10th grade, during a hike in Israel, I came across an apiary (a collection of beehives) in the middle of a field. There were two rows of beehives, each with maybe five hives, and a ten foot gap in between the rows. In the middle was this super highway of bee traffic, with tens of thousands of bees flying past in every direction. As the curious kid that I had been, I was drawn to the middle of this arrangement, and was awe struck by the intense combination of sheer danger, and absolute calm at the center of this superhighway. It was as I imagine the eye of a tornado to be, calm, but surrounded by utter chaos.

My brave and awesome siblings David and Atara, enjoying being in the center of a tornado of bees.

I stayed there for several minutes, but then I got freaked out and left. When I returned home from Israel, I came back with a newfound interest in honeybees, and began learning as much about them as I could. By the end of 10th grade, I had decided to purchase a beehive, and that is how my beekeeping journey began.

Five years later, I am in the IDF, and unfortunately I don’t really have much to do with honeybees anymore, and truthfully I haven’t even wanted to start a colony of bees in Israel. Ants however, are a different story. I have been infatuated with ants lately. While talking with my mom about my new obsession, she sounded surprised, and told me that she couldn’t understand how ants could bring pleasure to people, bees at least make honey which we as humans can enjoy. I reminded my mom that I never really loved honey that much, the reason that I loved beekeeping was for the bees themselves, and ants, being very similar to bees, but considerably easier to contain, seems like a very worthy substitute, at least for now.

Freshly harvested honey, I had a very high tech extraction process.

The truth is however, she did have a point in that bees make stuff. Honey, which we use as a sweetener, or whatever else you use honey for, is not the only product of a beehive. Another common and well known product, is beeswax, which is considered to be a high grade wax used for quality candles.

A mostly full frame of brood, developing baby bees!

A less known product of the beehive is a substance called propolis. This is a sticky substance that bees make from tree sap, pollen, honey, and about a million other different things that they come across in their forages. They use this to close up holes and cracks in the hive, and since it is anti-bacterial, if a small animal happens to die (get stung to death) in a hive, they will use propolis to essentially mummify the corpse, and therefore prevent bacterial growth, and hygienic problems within the hive. Propolis is something that most non beekeepers don’t have any idea about, but even the most inexperienced beekeeper is likely to be well acquainted with. This is because it has such a significant presence in a beehive, and it is something that has to be dealt with on every frame that a beekeeper wants to maneuver. On a hot summer day, propolis is extremely sticky, like duct tape, with a chewed bubble gum consistency.

Propolis that I collected after a visit in my hive.

When I would open my hive on a day like this, I would be hit with the extremely potent smell that is entirely distinct to propolis. At first, this scent was neither pleasant nor off-putting, but over time, I began to associate it with everything amazing that there was in the world of beekeeping. Opening the hive to the strong aroma of propolis became a reward in and of itself.

While working in the hive though, it is necessary to remove propolis from the frames, and any surface that is covered, in order to be able to maneuver anything. Many beekeepers collect propolis, for as any old time beekeeper will tell you, take a small piece, place it under your tongue, and suck on it, and this will cure any sickness. Even though I have done it a few times when I was sick, it has kind of a bitter taste, and I’d rather just pop a pill. Nevertheless, I would collect propolis too, and with each time that I would open my hive, my collection of propolis would grow, just waiting for an idea, or spark of inspiration to get used (like maybe varnishing a violin).

I would shape these chunks into different shapes as well, sometimes cubes, pyramids, or balls, and it didn’t take long for me to end up with a paper bowl full of shaped chunks of propolis. Needless to say, I never varnished a violin, and until today, much of that propolis is probably sitting in a drawer somewhere in my parents house, 6000 miles away.

Bees “bearding” outside of the entrance to the hive, this is how they maintain temperature in the hive.

If you still remember the beginning of this post, and you haven’t caught on yet, the item that I found in my junk drawer is a golfball sized chunk of propolis, which I didn’t even know I had. After smelling it, it induced within me a tremendous sense of enjoyment, reminding me of everything I loved about beekeeping. With one whiff, the flowers are back in bloom, the fear, excitement and awe of the bees whizzing past is back, and the queen reigns supreme once again, my love for beekeeping is un-earthed.

The queen is the bee in the center with the large abdomen, receiving all the attention

They say that smells can induce the strongest emotional responses, I can’t say I disagree.

Thanks for reading!

Max

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