Clark Kent has nothing on John Crist and Mario Chiodo.
The Mt. Lebanon residents are beekeepers, and in that context, the word “super” applies to something they work with frequently in their avocation.
“When a colony is growing and it needs more room for the bees to store the honey, we put these boxes” – they’re the supers – “on top of the hive, and that’s called supering the hive,” said Crist to a group gathered recently in an Upper St. Clair High School classroom.
Who knew that could qualify as a proper verb?
Nuances of the English language aside, Crist and Chiodo brought bunches of boxes to the school so volunteers could help them extract the sweet stuff inside, and to learn a lot about bees in the process.
“You are about to participate in something that many people are very curious about,” Crist told the high school and elementary students who were lending a hand. “So you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that this is what you did, and they’ll appreciate that.”
Along with discovering another meaning for “super,” the students learned the boxes are full of removable frames in which bees make honey and cap it with wax.
“The first thing we have to do is to cut off the cappings of the honey,” Crist said about the extraction process, which Chiodo demonstrated by slicing through the wax with a knife.
“Any cappings that I couldn’t get off,” he added, “I’m going to use a scraper and make sure all of them are off.”
After the removal, the frames are put into an extractor – Chiodo brought his manual model, and Crist an electric one from the Scott (Township) Conservancy – that uses centrifugal force to separate the honey and let it flow into a bucket below.
“That honey is ready to be bottled,” Crist said, as the volunteers watched the liquid emerge. “That’s marketable, right there.”
And so they took their places to help extract more honey, some working on capping removal, others cranking the manual machine. Among them was Alex Shaw, who will be an Upper St. Clair High School senior.
“I was expecting us to be in suits, collecting the actual frames with a lot of bees,” he said. “But it’s interesting taking it from a different perspective and getting more of the honey side and not the bee side.”
His classmate Sunny Chai thought helping extract honey would be a good way to earn volunteer hours.
“Now that I’m here, I think it’s a really fun thing and it’s nice to be able to help out with this process,” she said.
Many of the supers came from Gilfillan Farm, also in Upper St. Clair, where Crist set up his first apiary. Since then, he has been asked by representatives of the Scott Conservancy and Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens in Collier Township, along with some of his fellow Mt. Lebanon residents, to set up beehives on their properties.
He and Chiodo often collaborate with raising honeybees and giving demonstrations, which many participants find to be particularly enlightening.
“It’s always cool to learn about new things,” Shaw said. “Always.”