A couple of yards from the Hilltop Reservation along Courter Street in North Caldwell sits the house of Joseph Lelinho, the local leading expert on beekeeping and honey making.
On a sun-drenched Saturday, Lelinho schooled a captivated crowd on everything they ever wanted to know about the secret life of bees. Well, almost everything, anyway.
“This year we’re having a great year here in New Jersey,” said Lelinho, owner and operator of Hilltop Honey. “We’ve had losing years for past several years. This is the first year we have not had a loss.”
Lelinho who has been keeping bees for the past 17 years, went on to explain the fragile and intricate process by which we humans come to enjoy the sweet and sticky product of the hardworking honey bees.
“Every bee has a job from a baby on up,” Lelinho stated, explaining the first 17 days of a bee’s life is dedicated to its education on life in a hive—guarding the hive, cleaning the cells, feeding babies, and making wax. After that she will either spend her days collecting pollen or tending to the hive.
The field bees' job is to leave the hive, flying high above the treetops, in search of pollen. These bees may fly up to two miles from the hive, but can always find their way back by the position of the sun in the sky.
As the bee flies from flower to flower, the hairs on her body trap pollen. The bee then uses the combs on her legs to scrape the pollen off into a little basket on one of her hind legs.
Upon returning home, house bees help to remove the pollen from the field bees and put the pollen into cells in the hive. One of the bees “pile-drives it” into the cell, packing it in, according to Lelinho. The house bee also collects the nectar stored in one of the field bee’s two stomachs (one stomach is for nutrition and the other is for honey and nectar). The house bee then mixes the nectar with the pollen stored it in the combs, which have been carefully constructed by the bees at a three to five degree tilt so the liquid doesn’t run out.
Lelinho repeatedly referred to the bees as female, because as he noted, “The hive is 97% female. Females do all the work.”
Of course the hives have a few drones, too, but their only responsibility is to mate with the queen. When the drone's gig is up, however, they are escorted out of the hive by the females to either find another hive who will have them or, most probably, die out in the field.
The queen mates with the drones —about 11 to 15 of them—during the first five days of her life. It is the only time she ever leaves the hive. She flies as high as she can and mates with the drones who fly highest as they are the strongest. After this period, she never mates again. She does continue to lay eggs, about 1,500 to 2,000, every day for the rest of her life.
Meanwhile, the other bees in the colony (at least the female ones) work dutifully for about two months, which is the extent of their lifespan. And by then what have they produced? “Honeybees will have 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey to show for its lifetime,” Lelinho said. “That’s it.”
This explains why each colony has about 70,000 bees; Lelinho maintains 50 colonies across Essex County and in Vermont.
As part of his demonstration Saturday, he removed a wooden frame filled with honeycombs from one of his colonies. Scraping off the outer layer of wax, he revealed the honey. Then he placed the frame upright into a metal drum already filled with several frames and spun them like a cotton candy machine spins liquid into fluffy sugar. The spinning drum forces the honey from the frames and the amber liquid drips down to the bottom, which Lelinho has a tapped so he can pour the honey out.
“Honey is the only food that will live forever,” Lelinho said, but warned it burns at 150 degrees. To get that wonder food, though, it takes a lot of hives. A wooden box fitted with nine frames that weigh 70 pounds when full yields a little less than three pounds of honey.
Lelinho uses everything the bees produce, though, letting none of their hard work go to waste. He uses the wax scraped from the frames to make beeswax candles. “Beeswax is the best wax,” he said. “It burns beautifully and doesn’t give off any toxins.”
Lelinho also noted the health benefits of honey, saying honey has antibiotic properties and also helps stave off allergies.
If that isn’t enough to make you love the stuff, maybe this will: the honeybee is our official state insect.
If you are interested in Lelinho's natural unprocessed honey or bee services you can contact him at Klutch.Cargo@verizon.net or call 973-403-8662.