Imagine being swarmed by over 50,000 bees — daily.
And that's exactly the scenario two Waxahachie siblings have made their summertime hobby as they develop two colonies of bees.
James Penkert, 15, is in his second year maintaining his colony that roughly consists of 40,000 bees.
He enrolled in the scholarship Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association program in 2018 under the mentorship of Waxahachie resident Ginger Cole.
After his year-long journey, he is now a proud member in the ambassador program, and his sister, 12-year-old Elizabeth Penkert, is Ginger's newest recruit for the scholarship program.
Earlier this week, the family, Cole, and the Daily Light suited up in beekeeper suits at the Boyce property, located seven miles east of Waxahachie. The group checked on the bees to ensure honey was produced and that they were working "according to code," as Cole explained.
"Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem — they are basically pollinators so you wouldn't have any fruits or vegetables," James said.
The Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association is a nonprofit corporation that focuses on bringing together old, new and aspiring beekeepers.
Cole has worked with bees for the past nine years. She has taken children and teenagers under her wing for a handful of those to teach the trade. Elizabeth and James have been "hospitality managers," as Cole calls them, noting the two are responsible for a hive with a queen and other bees.
Since January, the students have participated in monthly courses held at the Trinity Hay Market Feed Store, constructed the bee box and managed their own hives.
Elizabeth sat in several informative meetings when her brother enrolled in the scholarship program in his first year. She caught on to the material quickly and was still able to absorb other ideas while doing it herself.
"I'm just going to say that beekeeping is a very profitable business is what I think," Elizabeth said. "I would like to sell the honey."
The students were equipped with a bee box "and a nucleus, a package of bees, which is five frames of bees with a queen in it that is proved to be laying eggs and is ready to go. They get a beekeeping suit, the gloves, a smoker and a mentor to help them get started."
The students do not open their hives very often as it irritates the bees.
"The requirement [to open the box] was once a week, but it's better not to do that because every time you open the hive, they seal it with this propolis kind of thing that keeps is sealed," James explained. "It's sap from trees. You break that seal, and it insolates the hive to keep it cool."
James said he opens his hive once or twice a month.
Since James' colony is more mature, it has more bees in it, which is estimated to include 40,000 bees with just the one queen. Since there are more bees, the colony has a more massive army to defend the honeycomb land.
The Penkerts have their bees "trained" to know when the honey boxes are being invaded to ensure everything is being built correctly. As the tops of the boxes are lifted, bees begin to swarm, and the beekeepers pump smoke in the area.
"The bees will release a pheromone that smells like bananas, and the bees give that off saying, 'Alert! Someone is coming into the hive, go sting them," James said. "So that [smoke] just masks the smell. So if you ever get stung, that pheromone is in that stinger; so I was smoking my hands because I had a bunch of stings on the glove and that's why the bees kept coming at my hands."
The siblings, along with their brother Joseph are homeschooled, and experiences like this, allow more hands-on education.
In July, the students were able to extract honey and save the jar for August for the honey tasting.
Concluding the program, the scholar will present a presentation over what they have learned. Once the Penkerts are certified, they are more than welcome to keep their bee colony and will have the opportunity to host a booth at the Texas State Fair.
"The end goal for the student is to be able to manage bees, safely, and to understand the biology and their behavior, be able to troubleshoot things and harvest the honey," Cole said.
As Cole mentors the students, she noticed, "They are very diligent and just great kids. They are very responsible and always clean up after themselves and are very attentive."
If interested in becoming a member of the Youth Scholarship Beekeeping Program, visit www.tvbees.org to learn more about the program.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450