Old Hives Tale

Observations and thoughts from a hobbyist beekeeper

I was looking at the Illinois State Beekeepers Association Yahoo group this morning and saw a posting on an NPR article about a man who wanted to build a “live in” hive.  One where he could put his head into and see what was going on.  Personally, I am fine with the small cameras that go inside to keep track of the bees, or look at the videos on line that show the waggle dance, or the attendants with the queen.  I enjoy watching the bees during an inspection where they string together, and especially when I see a bee emerging from the comb and joining her sisters in the hive.  Putting my head into a hive I think would just invite potential trouble (but then again do the bee stings to the head increase brainpower?  Something to think about.).   Apparently this gentleman had some reservations about it himself and never got around to building it.  He did find the next best thing though, travelling with his head in the middle of a swarm (for the article click here). 

The mental picture of someone walking (and running) in a halo of bees is cool!  It’s like escorting them to their new home (like the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the Baileys pack up the car with the new home owner’s family and take them to their new house, and present them with welcoming gifts).  Following them along gives the beekeeper a chance to say “goodbye” to some of the bees who have helped during the year, and collect them from distant locations to expand the apiary.

I believe if I ever had the opportunity to do something like this, I would embrace it.  After all how often can you travel in such fine company.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month called for an end to fighting in “the war to end all wars”. 

Unknown WWI Soldier

Unknown Soldier of WWI

For five horrific years, Europe was embroiled in a bitter war.  A whole generation of French, English, Russian, and German men were wasted on the fields and mountains of Belgium, France, Turkey, Italy. Russia  and Germany.  The US came late to the war (1917), and saw it share of maimed and dead but did not see the great slaughter that the other countries saw.

What the US did see was traumatic injuries on a scale reminiscent of the Civil War.  Many veterans came home with limbs missing and physical scars that would make it very difficult for these men to be seen in public without the chance of being stared at like side show performers.  Others suffered from a new psychological phenomenon referred to as “shell shocked” and had a very difficult time adjusting to life in mainstream America.

The government did not ignore these damaged men, but looked to find a fulfilling occupation for them.  Beekeeping was an answer.  It was considered a viable alternative because the beekeeper typically works alone, at a slower pace, and has a major contribution to society through the products from the hive.  To this end, the US and British government established a “task force” to help returning veterans learn beekeeping.

Personally, I know the feeling of peace that falls over me when I am working a hive (OK, not when the girls are angry) and the joy I feel by sitting in the apiary and watching the bees go back and forth from home to blossom and back gathering nectar and pollen.  I can imagine that the tranquil feeling may have helped these vets, and others since, find peace and connection again.

I also know the opportunity to allow me to peacefully reflect has been given to me by a veteran.  On this day of remembrance for those who have served their country, I want to say . . .

Thank you!

When I started beekeeping, I never thought I would be swimming in bees.  However, last Sunday I did have that unique experience.

One of my friends, a long time beekeeper, needed some help in harvesting his honey.  It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about beekeeping from a couple of guys who have each put in more than 20 years of learning about bees and beekeeping all for the price of some tired muscles and achy shoulders.

One of the things about keeping bees is everyone has an opinion of the best ways of doing thing.  The old saying goes “If you ask 10 beekeepers how to do something, you’ll get 11 answers!”  It’s true that everyone has a preferred way of doing things, developed over time and done because:

  • That’s the way I was taught
  • That’s what the book says
  • I heard about it from a friend
  • It just makes sense to me

I am a learning junkie, I enjoy learning from books, discussions, and experiences.  I always try to take something new away from everything, and see if it fits into logic and reason.  I figure that the more information and ideas I am exposed to the better I will be able to find out what makes sense to me.

SO, there’s four of us in the remnants of an above ground swimming pool with a ring of hives around the walls, entrances pointing towards the center and bees from 10 hives buzzing to beat the band, each one on a distinct flight path that takes them out or back to their own hive as the work to fill the honey combs with stores for the winter.

My previous experience with taking the honey from the hives has been with fume boards and Fischer’s Bee Quick (smells like almonds).  The process is to put the board on the super and wait for about 10 minutes until the bees are driven down and the frames are bee free.  For harvesting today we used smoke to push the bees down and then pulled the super off the hive and set it on end in front of the hive so the bottom was facing towards the hive.  Firing up the faithful gas leaf blower, we used hurricane force winds to push the bees out of the super and towards the hive.  It did an OK job of clearing out the bees and was quicker than the fume board method (though I think there are fewer bees left in the super with the bee quick method, they may have been a bit calmer with blowing though).  With this, more bees were in flight as they worked their way back into the hive.  It didn’t seem to affect the bees, I didn’t see any signs of damage or death because of it, and we were able to move quickly through the bee yard.

The best part of the time was watching how the old hands approached the hive inspection.  First testing for the weight of the hive by lifting the back to see if there was enough honey for the winter or if they should start being fed.  The second was looking at the hive bodies and seeing where the bees were grouping to help look for the queen (we didn’t see queens, but checked the brood to see if she was there and still producing).  Also hearing their thoughts on medicating the hive, readying it for winter and other odds and ends.

All in all it was a great way to spend a day.  I expanded my beekeeping knowledge, lent a helping hand and continued to build friendships with great people.