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Birgit deWeerd, a beekeeper, from Bedford, shows students at West Elementary School the inside a honeybee hive.

It really "bugs" Birgit deWeerd when people mistake a wasp for a honeybee.

The Bedford-based beekeeper noted the differences between the stinging insects when she met with third-graders last week at West Elementary School.

"When honeybees sting you, they will die," deWeerd said. "But wasps can sting you more than once."

But neither insect will sting unless provoked, she emphasized.

A chemist by profession, deWeerd said neighbors often call on her to remove "bee swarms" from their yards. Often, however, when she shows up to collect such a "swarm," it is actually a wasp nest.

But if the swarm is indeed real, she'll bring it home with her, placing the colony of honeybees in one of her hives.

"These bees are very gentle, never kill them," deWeerd advised the students. "All they want is to be close to their queen."

Wild honeybees live in dark, hollow spaces, according to deWeerd, who held up a hollow tree trunk for the students to see.

But deWeerd's honeybees live in bee boxes.

Modeling her veiled beekeeping hat, she explained to the students how a honeycomb is removed from a bee box. "I'm very careful not to squish them," she said, adding that she uses a hand-held smoking device to put the bees in a trance.

"Smoke calms the bees down," she said.

As for the veil on her hat, well, it offers protection for both bee and beekeeper.

"(Otherwise) they could get tangled in my hair," said deWeerd, who claims she rarely gets stung.

The owner of deWeerd Bee Products, deWeerd said she first became interested in beekeeping over a decade ago, after receiving a jar of home-raised honey as a gift. Soon after, she began keeping her own hives.

Today, she is a member of the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association and sells her bee products online in addition to traveling to area schools, clubs and libraries — giving educational lectures on her hobby.

Her educational outreach is important, she said, due to the important role honeybees play in the produce industry | and the environment in general.

"Every third bite of fruit you eat is the product of honey pollination," deWeerd said.

With recent reports of vanishing honeybees in the news, she said that fewer bees could some day mean less fruit for sale in local supermarkets.

"It could result in fewer, more expensive apples and other fruit," deWeerd said.



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