By AMY LINDBLOM
Sam Masquelier was looking for a unique hobby two years ago; something to do with his time and the money he received from selling a 4-H lamb.
After much consideration, talks with his parents and prayers, too, he decided to become an apiculturist a beekeeper.
Sam, who turned 15 on Tuesday, started with five hives and 39,000 bees. Now he has 12 hives and 700,000 bees. Or so.
"I say approximately, because it is really hard to count bees," Sam said. "Some books will tell you there are only 60,000 bees in a hive, (others say) 80,000. I like the bigger number.
"But they only live about two weeks, so in a healthy hive, there are always new bees to take the place of the dead ones that are dumped out of the hive by the housekeeper bees."
Of Tuolumne County's eight registered beekeepers, Sam's apiary of New World Carniolan bees is probably the smallest, he said. Still, the teen wants to be one of the biggest beekeepers around, not for one-upmanship on his fellow keepers, but because he loves bees and is fascinated by the homes they build and things they can do for humans.
Sam chose the Carniolan bees because they are gentle and won't sting unless really provoked, unlike the Africanized Honey or Killer bees the ones he calls "honey bees with an attitude."
Beekeeping started out as Sam's idea, but his enthusiasm has turned his hobby into a family affair.
Sam's dad, Joe, and his brother, Caleb, 16, helped build and paint the hives. His mother, Holly, has chronicled Sam's avocation through hundreds of digital photographs. But Sam does most of the work, has the most knowledge and gives direction to his parents and brother when he needs their help.
"Sam has taught us not to swat at insects until we know if it is one of his bees," said Joe Masquelier, a Hayward fireman. "Fortunately, his bees are easy to spot because they are darker in color."