To Bee or Not To Bee

Apiculture: Raising bees for the purpose of gathering honey and/or pollinating plants; put simply: beekeeping. I did not know what the big fancy five buck word for beekeeping was until I started to write this, but I knew that such a word would exist. It is the way we are. We need a big word, preferably in a dead language, before we feel like something we are doing is important.

Two weeks ago, we went over south of Chillicothe, Missouri, to Crooked Hill Beekeeping to talk to Bill about starting our bees in mid April to early May. I know that is two months away and yes, I already feel rushed.

First, what I actually know about beekeeping could be written on the back of a match book, with a dull carpenter’s pencil. I know essentially three things, none of which are very helpful at this time.

1. Grandpa raised bees in his apple trees. The honey was marvelous and the man, well if he raised bees the whole world should.
2. As a boy I was entranced and amazed by the bees, their rituals, patterns and practices, as well as the art of caring for them and harvesting honey. I recall spending time behind the bee hives, quietly, with my ear up against the back of the hives, listening to the constant hum as the bees worked and kept the hive cool.
3. Bees are not a luxury in our environment; they are a necessity. Probably much more of a necessity than you and I.

Let’s get down to some of the practical parts of what Connie and I have done in order to become bee-keepers. The first and best thing we did was make connections. We found out, quite by accident, that a new Beekeeping Club was forming in Braymer and we have attended two meetings so far.

It is an eclectic group, consisting of everything from professionals through homesteaders to Mennonites. By the way, those guys have the coolest hats. The first meeting we attended was in October, and was largely organizational. Because of the holidays, we did not do another meeting until the end of January, where we got a presentation on preparing the hives for spring.

The information is important of course, but the connections with other people who are doing what we propose to do, is equally important. Both give you a chance to pick people’s brains, learn what worked for them and what didn’t, and to hear the jargon of beekeeping.

The difference between a Super and a Deep are simple things, but are the beginning of a confusion that just grows as words with which you are perfectly familiar, come out of people’s mouths in orders and contexts that make absolutely no sense. The February presentation of our yet un-named beekeeping club is going to be about the jargon of beekeeping. I am looking forward it with great interest.

The next part, in my opinion, would be the same whether your interest is beekeeping or Alligator wrestling. If you are going to learn from somebody, learn from somebody who really knows; and if you are going to do business with somebody, do business with somebody you can trust.

The Good Lord, being certain I need all the help I can get, led me to Bill and his wife Tammy at Crooked Hill Beekeeping. Here, I will admit a bias. Both Bill and I are retired military, and Bill is also a Law Enforcement Officer, which I was for a number of years. So we start out with a lot of shared interest and attitudes. As we have mentioned, Connie is also a military veteran so, again, that established a level of trust going in. Also both Bill and his wife are sensitive to the fact we are starting a little downhill from the bottom so, while we are not idiots, it is best not to take any chances.

After talking to Bill for a couple hours, one hour on bees and one hour of old soldier war stories, Connie and I made arrangements to buy two hives of bees complete. This included:

Two Nucs of Russian Bees. You can buy bees in packages, which are just the bees, or Nucs which are an already established hive with five frames (what the bees make honey and put their eggs in). We decided to go with the Nucs to start with, so that we have a greater chance of an initial success.

Two full hives unassembled. I bought them unassembled not just because they were a tad cheaper, though they were. I bought them that way so I can see how they go together so that in the future I can possibly build my own if that seems more economical. A full hive consists of:

1. A bottom board with a reducer
2. Two deeps (the place where the bees live, breed and make their honey to be stored for winter)
3. 20 Deep frames and foundation (What the bees make comb and brood on)
4. A super (the smaller box you put on top where, hopefully, the bees will make your honey)
5. 10 Medium frames and foundation (For your supers where you will someday find your honey if all goes well).
6. An inner cover, which controls air flow
7. An outer telescoping cover, which is the top of your hive.

If you are like me you need a picture:

langstrothHiveIllus

A diagram of a bee hive found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Beyond all this we bought some other items necessary to assemble these products into bee hives and a copy of a book (books are good, I like them in paper with pages, I can write on and bend over) called First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane. I picked the book up in his shop and Bill told me that this was the book he started with. That was a good enough endorsement for me.

After I have assembled my two hives and before the Nucs arrive, I will make another visit to buy a bee suit, smoker and other equipment along those lines. I am waiting, so I will be sure of what I need.

Now I have to assemble, paint, and set up two hives, before I have two already established bee colonies arriving for me to tend to. The cats have a hard enough time with dogs in the house; I doubt that they or Connie are going to be pleased if I try to raise bees in my den. No pressure.

As I do the work in my own bumbling way, I will get Connie to make pictures and we will post them for your edification and amusement.

God Bless,

Ed

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