Sung Lee "The Bee Charmer"

What motivates the beekeeper hobbyist to invest themselves deeply in this endeavor?  Is it access to raw honey? Might it be concern about  a significant dwindling of the bee population? How does this daily work enhance a person's well-being? Clearly beekeeping as a hobby can be a passion, but I wanted to understand that better and share it here through the story of Sung Lee's life. 

By Jason Laurenzano  |  December 31, 2020

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Introduction 

I am very excited to offer this Profile in Passion: "Sung Lee The Bee Charmer".  I have long been curious about honey bees, their hives and colonies.  My wife can attest that I have occasionally pointed out stacks of beehive boxes while driving through the countryside.  The notion of being among swirling honey bees in close proximity to beehives is, for me, both fascinating and daunting.

Many of us enjoy honey and its many varieties.  It is intriguing to know that honey can never spoil.  Some of us find uses for beeswax.  Bees and other pollinators are critical contributors to the food chain.  Speaking of food, I learned that it is the yellowjacket wasp, and not the honey bee, that annoyingly descends upon outdoor picnic table food. 

 

Agricultural and commercial beekeeping as an industry makes sense, but what about suburban and even urban beekeeping? How does that work? Would an urban beekeeper be welcomed or resisted by neighbors? After all, many people experience melissophobia (AKA apiphobia), an intense fear of bees. How does the urban beekeeper ingratiate herself and her hives with the neighborhood?  By the way, what’s the difference between a honey bee, bumblebee, yellow-jacket, wasp and hornet?

 

What motivates the beekeeper hobbyist to choose to interact with a colony of bees at close range? Is it to harvest raw honey? Is it to maximize the home garden bounty through more frequent pollination?  Or is it out of concern that the honey bee population is drastically diminishing? Perhaps it is all of the above.  For many beekeeper hobbyists it is more than "all of the above".  It is a PASSION.

I set out to learn about the honey bee and the passion that they instill; and how this passion can enhance the overall life of the beekeeper.  Through the profiling of “Sung Lee The Bee Charmer” I aimed to learn and to share this information with you. 

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I was fortunate to have been introduced to Sung Lee through a local beekeepers association.  We corresponded and I was immediately energized by his enthusiasm.  His backstory is interesting, as I share here.  But it is his passion for beekeeping and how it permeates his daily life that I hope to convey through this Profile in Passion.  It is the overarching theme of passionsillustrated.com    

A Crisis is Buzzing

This Profile in Passion focuses on the honey bee, a very critical pollinator.  That is not to diminish the vital importance of our country’s many hundreds of varieties of nesting bees that pollinate flowers and plants, so important to the natural environment.

It has been reported that the pollinator bee population has dropped significantly in recent decades due to a loss of habitat, the increased use of pesticides and herbicides, and other reasons. If this population were to disappear the earth's food chain would be decimated.  

Sung Lee: From Korea to California

Before I visited his home and apiary, Sung shared his background and his path to beekeeping.  He is a 62 year old Korean-born naturalized U.S. citizen who owns and operates a pair of successful and award-winning dry cleaning businesses.  He explained that in Korea a male is expected to pursue the male-oriented professions, enterprises or activities that bring admiration to the family.

“When I was in the 4th grade my father wanted me to become an Olympic speed skater so he enrolled me in a speed skating training camp.  I spent 6 months during each of two years training under a famous coach.  I won races and was awarded medals but at the expense of my academics.  Academic under-performance is severely frowned upon by the family and the community, so I stopped the speed skating.” 

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Sung switched to figure skating, enjoying its fluidity and creativity.  His father was not pleased.  Life and its options opened up for Sung when his family immigrated to the United States in 1977.  

“I was 19. I found it refreshing because here creativity and personal choice are valued. I had more control of my life. I changed my college major from engineering to music.  My parents weren’t happy. In the Korean culture, back then, the arts were thought to be for women.”   

Sung compromised by re-directing his career path towards entrepreneurship.  Familiar with the dry cleaning business through family friends, he went to school and earned the requisite license.  In 1982, at the age of 23, he opened Hesperian Cleaners, Inc. in San Lorenzo, California.  He later opened a second location in the nearby town of Danville. Both are successful not only economically but also in terms of environmental responsibility.  His was the first to convert to green technology in Alameda County, replacing toxic cleaning solvents with a technology known as “Professional Wet Cleaning” that conserves water and energy and produces no hazardous waste.  

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Sung cuts the ribbon to open his second Hesperian Cleaners location in Danville, California.

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Sung proudly received multiple environmental and small business awards from the State of California, local governments, the local water district and nonprofit organizations.  He is pictured alongside his father and Mary D. Nichols, Director of the Air Resource Board of California.

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In 2011, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Environmental Business People and is featured in the book “Legendary Locals” of the region. Sung is pictured in bottom row, second from left.

Sung’s Path to Beekeeping

 

Okay, so how did he go from dry cleaning to beekeeping?  Fruit trees is how.  When he and his wife and children moved to a new property they purchased fruit trees from a seller who had beehives on the property. The seller enjoyed bumper crops of fruit, year after year.  So, three years ago Sung established a honey bee colony on his property. 

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“My wife and I knew nothing about beekeeping. We bought a starter beekeeping kit.”

 

Five months later the colony was lost, the bees having disappeared.  Wanting to understand why, he energetically researched, pouring over books (including “Beekeeping for Dummies”) and other printed and online material.  He took beekeeping classes and delved into online tutorials and other resources.  He connected and learned from experienced beekeepers. 

The next season he got another hive and his wife’s vegetable garden reflected it.  “We soon had our largest yields of zucchinis, cucumbers, and perilla and, in later years, lots of fruit such as apples, apricots, persimmons, plums, peaches and mulberries.” 

Pollination

Pollination is a fertilization process involving the transfer of pollen, from the male part of a plant (the “anther” or “stamen”) to the female part of the plant (the “stigma” or “carpel') by insects, birds, mammals, wind and water.  These reproductive parts are often near the top of the bloom, and adjacent to one another, making pollination more likely.

Bees move from flower to flower and plant to plant to collect pollen to take back to the bee colony for its protein nutrition. The pollen attaches to hair on the bee by way of an electrostatic charge after which the bee uses its legs to collect the pollen into “pollen baskets” located on its rear legs.  Some pollen remains and fertilizes the plants.

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Many commercial beekeepers travel the country to rent bee colonies to crop farmers. In the U.S. the almond and blueberry industries are among the biggest renters of bees.

 

Because honey bee colonies rely on pollen they collect it from many pollen-producing flora, even those not requiring cross-pollination via insects.

 

[For more on how flowers and bees have evolved into a symbiotic relationship, see Appendix # 1]

Soon, beekeeping became more than just a way to increase the bounty from the Lee family garden. A PASSION was born. Sung came to love the science of bees, their biology and relationship to the environment.  He joined two local beekeepers associations and became a very active member, learning and sharing information, knowledge and techniques. He enrolled in the California Master Beekeepers Program at the University of California, Davis. He was invited to join the board directors of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association and to serve as its vice-president. 

 

“I told the current president that I don’t know many of the over 400 members so it might be too soon.  He said, ‘Sung, everyone is talking about you. They see you everywhere and they like how you do your beekeeping.  They see your willingness to help others’” 

He was named “Beekeeper of the Year” and is now its vice-president.  

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Through his popular “Sung Lee The Bee Charmer” Facebook page (1,000+ followers) and YouTube channel (290+ subscribers), and most recently TikTok, he has helped scores of beekeepers and introduced the importance of honey bees and beekeeping to the general public.  His uploads on TikTok have 25 million views, with over 140,000 followers, and are increasing daily.  He is in high demand for consultations. 

 

He also responds to calls from property owners who have discovered beehives that they want removed. [For information about “Sung Lee The Swarm Chaser” please see Appendix.]

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Wasps and Hornets and Yellowjackets, and Bees “OH, MY!”

 

The honey bee and other species of pollinating bees are distinct from wasps (which include yellowjackets and hornets).   

 

[For more information about the distinctions, please consult the Appendix # 2]

Apiary [ ey-pee-er-ee ]

noun, plural a·pi·ar·ies.

A place in which a colony or colonies of bees are kept, as a stand or shed for beehives or a bee house containing a number of beehives.

Visiting Sung’s Apiary

Having learned about Sung’s background and path to beekeeping and after I did some reading on bees and beekeeping I was abuzz to visit his beehives. My wife enthusiastically came along.  It was a sunny, comfortably warm early November day.  Election Day 2020.  What better way to be distracted from the campaign politics drama than to be surrounded by a cloud of honey bees? 

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The apiary overlooks vast open space that is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. During our rainy season the hills are lush green.

The Lees live on a quiet cul-de-sac in a hilly suburb near Oakland.  Sung greeted us with a warm smile detectable despite his COVID-era facemask.  We quickly discovered another of Sung's passions.  Orchids.  On his property he has a vast collection of a variety of orchid species and hybrids .  He teaches orchid classes and conducts workshops at the adult school and at libraries and community centers.  

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One of many photographs of orchids on Sung’s Flickr account.

 

Sung was visibly excited to introduce us to his apiary so we didn't linger long with the flowers .  We suited up as we asked questions about what we were about to experience.

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We were fitted with beekeeper’s protective gear. The material is a form of canvas, the sleeves are cinched tightly and the hood is securely zippered and buttoned up.  The netting in the hood does not obstruct the view.  I felt very secure and not at all hesitant to approach the hives, until I saw and heard the cloud of honey bees (see each of the two videos below).

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Susan showing her enthusiasm, and proudly displaying her Queen Bee shirt that announces that “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE”.  I’m open to that!

What we saw was only some of the over 50 hives that he owns, many of which are “hosted” by homeowners in surrounding communities who have happily agreed to have the bees pollinating their trees and gardens. 

It didn’t take long to relax among the flying bees because they are fascinating to watch.  At first we were standing at the front side of the hive boxes, inadvertently blocking the entrance.  The bees took offense and began flying and buzzing agitatedly. 

After guiding us to the back and sides of the hives Sung explained what the busy bees were busy doing. He opened the box lids and lifted out wooden "frames" covered with honey bees.  When new the frames are rectangular strips of wood with nothing on the interior. The bees set about constructing the  hexagon-shaped cells out of beeswax secreted from their bodies.  We saw cells containing eggs laid by the queen and capped "brood cells" containing the growing pupa that will emerge as bees.  We saw storage cells containing the nutritional pollen and honey.

While in the apiary I noticed that the neighboring houses are close to his property. With bees buzzing all around us, I asked Sung if his neighbors were comfortable with all of this. 

“I'm fortunate because the neighbors appreciate having a beekeeper on the block. They are great for everyone's garden. Occasionally I'll chat about the bees and explain the different jobs that the bees do for the benefit of the colony.  People are interested to learn that most of the bees, the worker bees, are female and are all sisters, offspring of the one and only queen bee of the colony."

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After opening the lid Sung pumps a small amount of smoke over the hive. The smoke distracts the bees as they begin preparing to evacuate. They attach to the honeycomb frames to gather honey. It is easier to inspect the health of the colony when the bees are attached to the honeycomb frames.

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Beekeepers use several tools.  A “ J-hook” is used to slide and separate the honeycomb frames from one another so that they can be easily lifted out.  Here, Sung is preparing to inspect a hive. The frames are removed slowly and carefully to avoid accidentally killing the queen.  The J-hook is visible in his hand and the smoker is visible.

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Inside each hive box there are ten frames.   Having removed the lid, Sung removes each frame to “read” them, inspecting the hive for its health, the condition of the queen and for signs of issues that need to be resolved for the wellbeing of the colony. The occasional intruding wasp is removed and other general maintenance is performed. 

Worker Bees

 

The vast majority of the bees seen in the hive are “worker bees”, female offspring of the queen.  They perform multiple functions depending on their age: nursing and feeding the queen, building honeycombs, foraging for nectar, making honey, removing dead bees from the hive and other functions. 

 

[For more information about the evolving roles of worker bees, please see the Appendix #3]

There are protective gloves but we didn’t use any because handling the frames is easier without them. Look, Ma, no gloves!

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Susan holds a frame (I think she is the one in the white outfit!).  She did get stung once on the hand.

 

Mating and Reproduction

Drones and Worker Bees

Drones are male honey bees. Their primary function is to mate a virgin queen.  To mate, the virgin queen leaves the hive to locate and then fly among drones from other colonies in what is referred to as a “drone congregation”.  Amazingly, she uses the sun to help locate the drone congregation.  In mid flight a queen honey bee might be mated by 10 to 20 drones, all of whom immediately die.  Drones that have not mated during the season will die during winter. 

 

The mated queen returns to her hive and lays multiple eggs (roughly 500 to 1,000 per day), one per cell. The eggs look like small grains of rice.  This is known as the “brood”. She lays eggs in the cells that are in the center-most area of the frame, known as the “brood frame”. 

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As the eggs develop into larvae the specialized worker bees that function as nurse bees secrete “royal jelly” and combine it with honey and enzymes to create “bee bread” which is fed to the larvae.  

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Worker bee larvae floating in “bee bread”.

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The golden-colored cells in the center of this brood frame is collectively known as the “capped brood” containing developing bees.  Visible at the upper left and right corners (yellow-hued), and the graying cells closer to the brood, are capped honey storage cells. 

 

There are two different sizes of cells, the larger ones are for producing the drones (males).  The queen lays unfertilized eggs there.  In the smaller cells she lays fertilized eggs to produce the worker bees (female).

Approximately 9 days after the egg is laid it develops into a pupa.  The bees then produce beeswax to “cap” each pupa-containing cell and the metamorphosis into a fully developed bee commences. 

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The brood cells capped with beeswax.

 

A worker bee emerges in approximately 21 days after the egg is laid.  A drone emerges in about 28 days.

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Queen Bees

Aptly named, the queen honey bee is treated royally by the worker bees. They feed her and groom her.  They prepare her for her maiden flight for mating and also in the event that she vacates the hive as part of swarming to create a new colony. 

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Mated queen with her attending retinue of attending worker bees.  Her thorax is marked with harmless ink that helps identify the season of her “birth” and to make it easier for the beekeeper to spot her and avoid accidental harm during hive maintenance.

The queen honey bee is a most fascinating creature.  She directs all activity within the hive by way of emitting specific pheromones.  She is the only bee that lays eggs and the only honey bee that can sting more than once without dying. As mentioned, she uses the sun to direct her to the drone congregation for mating and she then hides from the sun for the rest of her life once she returns to her hive.  The more I learned about her the more astonished I became.

A new queen must be produced in two circumstances.  First, when an existing queen is nearing death a newborn queen must take her place.  Second, whenever the colony splits and swarms away to create a new colony it must have a new queen if the mother queen does not arrive.  

 

The development of a queen differs from the development of the worker bees and the drones.  A “queen cup” is built by the worker bees into which the mother queen lays a fertilized egg.  A future queen bee’s larvae is fed excessive amounts of royal jelly alone (no bee bread).  The cup is then capped. It then expands into a “queen cell” as the metamorphosis into a virgin queen bee progresses. 

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Queen Cup

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The metamorphosis into a queen occurs in a “queen cell” that resembles a peanut shell.

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When it is time for her to emerge the queen pecks a hole in end of the cell.  She emerges approximately 16 days after its egg is laid.  

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Virgin Queen Honey Bee

We were intrigued to learn that multiple virgin queens can be developed simultaneously but usually only the first to emerge will survive.  She immediately sets about killing any subsequently emerging queens or queens still inside of a queen cell.  If two new virgin queens emerge, the stronger will kill the weaker.  An alternative exists.  The beekeeper can remove one of the new queens to create a separate independent colony in a new hive.

Pheromone Communication

As incredible as it is that honey bees produce honey that we enjoy, what is astounding is how honey bees communicate throughout the colony to coordinate activities within and beyond the hive.

Bees emit different activity-specific pheromones.  The queen emits the largest variety in order to direct worker bee activity.  Sung explained that there is one pheromone that he can actually smell, the warning/defense pheromone.  The moment he smells it he retreats.  Some beekeepers say that this pheromone resembles the scent of a banana.     

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As we stood among his hives, bees flying all around us, Sung explained that the foraging worker bees leave the hive to retrieve pollen and nectar (from miles away if necessary). They have no difficulty finding their way back “home”.  Here’s the most amazing part.  Upon their return the foraging bees communicate the location of good foraging sites to the other worker bees that are preparing to forage. They perform what is known as a “waggle dance”.   

Scientists believe that different elements of the “dance” communicate specific information.  The length of the waggle is believed to indicate the distance from the hive.  The angling of the body during the waggle indicates direction.  The vigor of the movement conveys the relative quantity of the pollen and nectar. The preparing foragers will sniff the returning bees to learn the type of pollen that had been found.

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Foraging worker bees collect pollen and store it in sacks attached to their legs

until they deliver it to the hive.

Honey

Floral nectar is the main ingredient for the production of honey and is the primary source of the bees’ energy. Foraging bees suck nectar droplets into its “honey stomach”. Enzymes then “invert” the complex sugars of the nectar into simple sugars.

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Upon return to the hive, foraging bees pass the inverted nectar to the young “house bees” who then pass the nectar mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until its moisture content is reduced from about 70% to 20%. The nectar is stored in honey cells and capped with beeswax.  It is later used for food once nectar producing flowers are out of season. 

Susan and I had recently visited a honey boutique in Asheville, NC and sampled a variety of honey flavors.  Until then I hadn't realized that it is the broad variety of nectar-producing flowers and flowering trees (magnolias, eucalyptus, linden, willow, maple, acacia among others) that accounts for the variety of flavors, colors and aromas of honey available for human consumption.  

Lots and Lots of Honey

A single hive can often produce between 30 to 40 pounds of honey annually. To create one pound of honey, the bees must visit millions of flowers.

 

To produce that much, it is estimated that foraging honey bees cover a distance equal to at least 5 trips to the moon and back.

 

The colony stores honey as a food source. In cold climates (where winter forage is limited) as much as 40 to 60 pounds of honey is stored. 

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Sung shows us some of the outer frames of the hive

where pollen and honey are stored.

In our moderate Bay Area climate, Sung harvests honey at least twice a year.  For each of the harvests he gets about 40 pounds per hive. 

 

To collect the honey he uses one of two methods, by pressing or by extracting with a centrifuge extractor.  In the pressing method, Sung removes the honeycombs from the frames and wraps them in cheesecloth. The wrapped combs are placed into a manual press.  When pressed the honey seeps out into catch containers.   

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A manual press

The more efficient motorized extractor spins the inserted honeycomb frames causing the honey to centrifuge out and then seep through a filter into a collection container.  Before the frames are inserted into the extractor the beeswax caps of the honey-filled cells are scraped off ("uncapped").  The scraped-off capping wax can be pressed to capture more honey. This capping wax is the premium wax that is used by manufacturers of candles, lotions, cosmetics and many other products.

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Uncapping the comb before placement into the extractor .

The "Spill-Over" Effect of Passion

A central theme in my “Profiles in Passion” is the influence of the Passion over one’s daily life and outlook.  After our tour of the apiary we sat down for a tasty refreshment of club soda infused with a honey and passionfruit blend.  

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I asked him to describe his experience when tending the beehives.

“When I am with my bees I’m in a different world, far away from other thoughts.  I’m being physically active but it is also very meditative and relaxing. I feel drawn to the bees. I feel compassion for them.  It’s emotional. I want to help them thrive.  I handle them with love. I want them to help the environment because without bees we humans and other animals can’t survive.”

I then asked how his passion has affected him overall. 

“It has changed my behavior and my attitude for the better.  It matured me in a new way.  What I know, what I do, and what I feel have merged. Things that I once had to force, I now do naturally. Beekeeping has transformed me, fundamentally, from deep within, in a way that successes in my business has not.  A person can’t “try” to accomplish this, it only happens by being genuine and living life with passion, compassion and purpose. I am very happy in my life.”   

I was curious to know how he experienced participating in this Profile in Passion for passionsillustrated.com.  

“This project has helped me reflect on and express in words what I’ve been feeling deep inside. You helped me pull together my thoughts and feelings and natural self-impressions.  I feel more defined.” 

How does Sung hope to contribute to his community through beekeeping?

 

“I hope to influence and inspire others in a positive way, through my bee-related services.  Helping, teaching, coaching new beekeepers, helping people who have a swarm to be removed, and other bee issues.”

 

Has his family noticed any differences as a result of his 3 plus years as a beekeeper?

 

“In Korea we have a saying that you are responsible for your face, your mask.  How you think and how you act is reflected in your facial expressions, and you can tell a lot about a person based on how they use their face and how their face actually appears.  When my grandchildren are with me and they see my face I hope that they see happiness and satisfaction and all positive things in my face.  My wife has noticed my face.”

 

I asked if his passion for "all things bees" has altered the way he interacts with others in general

 

“At the dry cleaning business I now enjoy more than ever the interaction with customers and I want to meet their needs.  I like to use humor, I like to chat with them.  I’ve had good exchanges with customers in the store at the same time, and who have not met, and by the end all of us were laughing.

I’ll give you an example.  One day a customer comes in.  I see from his face and body language that he’s impatient and wants his pants to be mended and he doesn’t want to leave the pants and return later.  I tease him ‘Come back next week? Or next Monday?’

 

He looks at me and I’m smiling so he knows I’m teasing him, I’m kidding.  Then I told him that if he can wait five minutes while I take this other customer I can help him right away.  So, then I tell him and the other customer that I had just done my first TikTok video on beekeeping but that I needed some music. Both of them started sharing ideas for which music I can use.  We all had a blast.  A very good moment, connecting and laughing together.  That made it a great day.

Before beekeeping I don’t think I would have had that experience.”

As we were preparing to depart Sung introduced us to his wife.  I was curious about her perception of Sung the Bee Charmer. 

“Sung is very passionate about bees, almost obsessed.  [She laughs].  When he puts his mind to something he goes for it.  He found something that he loves and it makes him very happy, and that makes me happy”.

On the way out Sung generously gave us parting gifts.  Some honey, some of the passion fruit –honey nectar drink, and an orchid that will bloom next spring.

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Author’s Note I enjoyed learning about honey bees and other species of bees from Sung Lee and from the many informative online sources such as perfectbee.com, beemission.com, Katy – Bee Missionary and others.  Representations of fact or other information appearing here is presented for general informational purposes only.  The contents herein should not be relied upon by those interested in beekeeping or matters related to honey bees.  It is advised that a professional beekeeper or other reliable source be consulted prior to taking any actions related to honey bees or other insects.  

~

Appendix # 1

Pollination and “Mutualism”

Flowers and honey bees have evolved to ensure their mutual survival.  This relationship is known as “mutualism”.

 

Honey bees developed specific adaptations to gather pollen from flowers. The fine hairs on bees’ legs gather pollen, loosely enough for some to be dislodged onto another flower, thereby pollinating it, but tightly enough to survive the flight back to the hive. Also, the bees have pollen baskets on the legs that are visible as yellow orbs on the legs once filled with pollen.  They can fly with filled pollen baskets that weigh close to their own bodyweight. Many other pollinators do not have this biological advantage.

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Flowers have evolved to attract bees because bees assist in their pollination.  

  • Shape.  Bees are attracted to flowers that are open and easy to access. A single row of petals and a wide open “mouth” make it easy for bees to access the nectar and pollen inside the flower. Flat flowers are easy for bees to land on and provide easy access.

  • Smell. Bees are attracted to the smell of sweet nectar.  The more nectar available the stronger and sweeter the scent. Renowned forest ecologist and biologist Dr. Suzanne Simard (who inspired the character Patricia Westerford in Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Overstory”) informs that some studies have suggested that certain flowering plants sweeten their nectar when they detect a bee’s wing beats.

  • Color. Flowers with bright-colored petals attract bees.  Bees cannot detect “red” but red-colored flowers may reflect UV light that attracts them.

  • Constancy.  Foraging bees are programmed to attend to a single species of flower during an outing, tending to as many of those flowers as possible, as many as 100 flowers at a time. This is good for that flower as it prevents pollination across different species.  

Native bees are 200 times more efficient at pollination than honey bees.  One internet source states that according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service pollinating an acre of apples requires 60,000-120,000 honey bees while the same area can be pollinated by 250-750 mason bees.

The importance of pollination cannot be overstated as it effects the entire food chain and, therefore, every species on Earth.  Nature is in a fine balance and the balance must continue without extensive interference for all living things to survive. 

 

Appendix # 2

 

Wasps are not Bees

Bees. There are hundreds of species of pollinating “bees”, the most common of which are honey bees, bumblebees and carpenter bees.  

 

  • Honey bees. The only “bee” that produces honey.  They are between ½ inch to 5/8th of an inch in size and orange-brown or black in color. These gentle European honey bees are generally not aggressive and attack defensively only when the hive appears threatened.  The drones (males) do not have stingers.  The worker bees (female) have barbed stingers and will die if they sting.  The queen is capable of stinging more than once without dying.

 

Africanized honey bees look similar to the European species.  They are more aggressive when the hive is threatened, sending more guard bees to sting and for a longer distance from the hive (or about 350 feet compared to 33 feet for the European bee). 

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European Honey Bees

  • Bumblebees.  There are over 250 species of bumblebee.  Their bodies are round and covered in soft hair that make them appear fuzzy.  They are pollinators: they forage in order to collect pollen to feed their young.  They produce wax but not honey.  They do not “waggle dance” to convey to other worker bees the location of food sources, but they do return to the colony to create sounds that induce others to commence foraging.

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  • Carpenter Bees. Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but the top of their abdomen is largely bare and shiny.  They are solitary (although a few species are considered semi-social). Female carpenter bees excavate nests in wood, using their strong jaws to chew holes into decks, porches, and other wood structures. They're unlikely to sting unless provoked. Males can't sting, so they rely on intimidation. They are territorial and will attempt to defend their turf by flying directly at you and buzzing loudly. 

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Wasps.  A category of multiple species of flying insect. The most commonly known wasps are yellowjackets and hornets. 

  • Yellowjackets are typically either yellow and black or white and black.  They are similar in size to the honey bee.  Like the honey bee they live in colonies with a queen, worker bees and drones.  Unlike the honey bee they do not have hair, do not carry pollen, and do not produce honey or beeswax combs.  Their nests are constructed of “paper” that they make from excretions of wood pulp.  They are important predators of pest insects. The females are capable of stinging multiple times without dying.​

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  • Hornets are the largest of the wasps containing multiple species. The “bald-faced hornet” is indigenous to the U.S. and measures about ¾ inch.  Their colonies and nests are consistent with those of the yellowjacket. Their sting is more painful than those of bees or yellowjackets due to the nature of the venom, although a single sting is not believed to be dangerous unless it causes an allergic reaction.  They can sting multiple times without dying.  ​

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Bee Stings

Be mindful that the injected venom from some stings can cause an allergic reaction that could cause difficulty breathing and/or other serious medical complications.  Call 9-1-1 if a medical emergency is developing.

Appendix # 3

Worker honey bees’ evolving roles

Foraging bees are worker bees that circulate among flowering plants to collect pollen and nectar.  They are female. These worker bees don’t start off foraging right after birth. As they age they progress through other roles before ultimately becoming foragers.  

  • Cleaners: These youngest bees clean and polish used brood cells including their own brood cell from which they emerge.

  • Undertakers: After successfully mastering the tasks of a cleaner, worker bees move on to be undertakers, removing dead bees from the hive to avoid infestation of desease. 

  • Nurses: Nurse Bees work to clean the hive, feed the larvae, feed and groom the queen and make honey. They also spread the queen’s pheromones which inform the colony that it has a viable queen living within it.

  • House Bees or Builders: After about 12 days, the female bees begin to secrete and produce wax which is used to build the honeycombs. 

  • Temperature regulators: Upon mastering the builder role, the worker bees move on to temperature regulation.  Drones also do this as the only contribution made to the colony.

  • Guards: Guard bees have a critical role in protecting the hive from robber bees (bees that take honey from hives that are not their home hive) and other threats.

  • Foragers:  Around 21 days old, female worker bees venture out to forage for nectar and pollen. They leave the hive at sunrise, forage up to five miles away, making up to 10 round trips to the hive each day, finishing near sunset.  They typically live for an additional three weeks once they have begun to forage, and they then die in the field.

Appendix # 4

 

Sung Lee The Swarm Chaser

 

Swarming is a reproductive behavior and the means by which a honey bee colony can divide into separate superorganisms. This is critical to a healthy population.  Swarming and the creation of new hives also helps reduce the number and impact of deadly parasites. 

Sung loves being called by property owners to remove unwanted swarms.  He finds it an exciting challenge and a means by which he can acquire more bees.  There is a protocol within the beekeeping community.  When a call for help goes out on an email blast the first beekeeper to respond and is able to arrive within 30 minutes gets the swarm. Sung estimates that he has collected over 200 swarms since he started three years ago.

 

“I live for those calls. I get very excited. I remember one Sunday we were sitting down for dinner and the phone pinged. I looked at it and then at my wife. She said later that she had never seen me that excited. Of course, I immediately left the table.     

 

Swarms often land on the branches of a tree or on or inside the walls of man-made structures, causing the property owner considerable angst.   

 

First I talk to the owner of the property to explain what is going on because they are freaking out. I emphasize that I know what to do and have a lot of experience with a process that works.  

 

I shake the swarm of bees and most fall into a bucket.  I then transfer them into a hive box. I sometimes use a bee-vacuum, designed for this purpose.  Because all the bees will follow the queen, I must find her and mark her.  I remove some of the honeycomb that has eggs laid in it and attach it to an empty frame in a new hive box.” 

Watch Sung capture swarms on his YouTube Channel here: “Catching 15000 Bees

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Sung Lee The Bee Charmer

 

Follow him on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok

Thank you for your interest in my Profiles in Passion at www.passionsillustrated.com

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about bees and beekeeping and that you enrich your life with a healthy passion of choice.

Jason Laurenzano

Some of the Many Additional Resources

The Alameda County Beekeepers Association

Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association

California Master Beekeeper Program

Planet Bee Foundation

Beekeeping | Pollinator.org