Through his white beekeeper’s veil, 8-year-old Sam Shapiro looks down at the delicate black and yellow worker bee that just landed on his chest. “She won’t hurt me,” Sam says. “A lot of kids go psycho when a bee gets near them. But if I just stand still, she’ll think I’m a statue.” Wearing a veil when working with bees is like wearing a helmet when riding your bike. Sam has been stung two or three times in his career as a beekeeper.
According to Sam, bees make great pets. They are fun to take care of, and they make food for their owners.
Sam has spent his entire life with bees in his family. When he was 2, he would stand at the window and watch his dad (experienced urban beekeeper Milt Shapiro) checking the hives in the side yard of their home in Northwest Washington. When he was 3, he and his dad would sit outside in the summer, admiring the worker bees as they delivered pollen (carried on their back legs “like little puff balls,” Sam says) to the hive.
For the past five years, Sam has helped his dad with beekeeping chores throughout the year. Every spring and summer, they look inside their two hives to make sure the queen is healthy and laying eggs. They also check for disease and make sure the bees (as many as 140,000 of them) have enough pollen and nectar stored to survive. As winter approaches and the temperature drops, the bees begin to cluster. Huddled together, they vibrate their flight muscles to keep the hive warm until spring.
Each summer, Sam and his dad harvest the honey. “When my dad takes a comb out of the hive,” the Lafayette Elementary third-grader says, “it’s covered with honey. You don’t want to put it on the ground because leaves would stick to it, so my job is to hold it.”
Next, they squeeze the comb into a clean bucket where it will drip honey through a filter for a few days. “The honey drips so slowly,” Sam says, “but you don’t want to waste a drop. It’s worth something even better than money.”
It smells good, too — like standing in a field of freshly cut hay on a bright, breezy summer day.
Finally, Sam and his father open the spout at the bottom of the bucket and pour the honey into glass jars. “I can just feel the honey dripping off my hand,” Sam says. “It’s sticky, and I lick every bit off my fingers. It tastes like heaven.” Later on, he enjoys his heavenly treat by the spoonful, on bread and in gooey sandwiches with peanut butter.