Saturday, November 3, 2007

Dances With Bees...


Well, it’s coming on to that time of year again; it’s time to start thinking about harvesting some honey. I know it’s the right time because I just finished my last jar of last year’s crop with some hot buttermilk biscuits a few minutes ago. And being out of honey is just against the rules with me; it just won’t do at all. Nope. I get a little nervous just thinking about being out of it, like a smoker without tobacco or a drinker with an empty glass. It just makes me get a little antsy, I guess you would call it.

I have been keeping and tending bees quite a few years now. It’s a good hobby that produces its own rewards. People I know that I have not seen in a year, suddenly start showing up at the house and hinting around about how divine it would be to have a little honey for their biscuits. It’s kind of funny how that works. You can’t find one of those devils when it’s time to throw square bales of hay or hoe the tobacco out. But just like magic, they appear on your doorstep when word gets out that you were seen fooling around in a beehive. Pretty peculiar, isn’t it?

I usually make pretty good money for my troubles. I get $5.00 a pint or $8.00 a quart. Last year, I got 27 pints out of one hive and sold every jar by dinner time (that’s lunch, for you city folks). The reputation of my honey precedes it and it’s not hard to move at all. The hard part is having enough left to do me over the winter! But I manage to stash away 3-4 quarts when they aren’t looking, and that’s plenty for me.

While thinking about harvesting some honey a while ago, I reviewed some bee keeping basics:

 Never open a hive on a cool day, it can chill the brood of unhatched bees and this is not thought of highly by the rest of the hive.

 Never open a hive on windy, overcast days for the same reason.

 Always open hives in the middle of the day, so the majority of field bees are gone gathering nectar and pollen.

 Always move in slow deliberate moves so as not to startle the bees.

 Always have plenty of cool smoke available to soothe the bees.

 Wear light colored clothes and a head net at a minimum.

I thought back to last year when I harvested honey. It was a little later in the year than it is this year. I had been planning on bush hogging that day and had on a pair of blue jeans and a dark green t-shirt. I was coming back up the drive from having breakfast at the little country store on the corner. The wind was blowing a bit and it was drizzling rain. It was basically just a dreary, cool autumn day in the making. It wasn’t cold but yet cool enough to see your breath. It had just got light enough to see good and I thought, “what better day than today to harvest some honey?”

I stopped the truck up the drive from the beehives. I figured this to be fairly quick work, so I left my smoker and head net behind the seat of the truck All I took with me was my hive tool (a small pry bar). My bees are always tame and I’m experienced at this right? It will all be ok.

I let the tailgate of the truck down to set the super on (the box that holds the honey frames) and went on down to the hive. There were a few bees mulling around the entrance, but mostly it looked pretty quiet. I took my hive tool and carefully pried the top cover off and then the hive cover itself underneath. The super had 9 frames in it packed with honey and ready to go. It was also packed with bees. I was thinking that I had better go back to the truck and get the smoker. I bet there were 5000 little heads sticking up between those frames and they were all looking at me.

As I started to turn for the truck, I saw a blur just before the first one stung me right above my left cheekbone, in that real tender place under my bottom eyelid. Well, that hurt. I instinctively raised my hand up rather quickly to remove that little devil as two more popped me on the back and side of my neck. I kind of stumbled backwards a few steps and swatted a few times around the bees gathering in my face. About then I saw what looked like a steady stream of black and yellow demons pouring out of the top of the hive. And I said to myself, “Self! You better run!”

The decision to run had been made, but run where? My mind raced and I thought-water-pond-quick! I stumbled back a few more steps and did a whirl or two and a few sidesteps and then I tripped and fell flailing in the gravel of the drive. I got back to my feet, flailing around and ducking and dodging as I headed for the pond. I noticed that a friend's truck had slowed down out on the road several hundred yards away and he was watching me I suppose. I guess he wondered, “Now, what’s that fool doin’? Out there in the driveway break dancin’ in the rain!” But I was pre-occupied and didn’t have time for him right then. I still had fifty yards between the pond and me, so I pulled out in that direction.

My only problem was that I forget about the high-tensile electric fence between the pond and me. So there I went, flailing around like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, straight into that fence. Pow! Pow! Every second it poured it on me again. I had bought one of those real good fence chargers, the kind that pops through 100 miles of fence in heavy weeds. There I was; wet and grounded on wet grass! Pow! Pow! Every time the fence hit me, the bees were knocked off and came back even madder than before!

I managed to roll over the fence and do a somersault and come up running. I am fairly sure I have seen some of the moves I did that day on MTV. Between that electric fence and the thud on the ground on the other side of it, I think the bees about had their fill of me for one day. I know I sure had my fill of them for a spell. I did finish running to the pond though, just in case. I sat right down in that wet grass and struggled with my shaking hands to get a cigarette lit. And there I sat for a good thirty minutes or so before I dared get up and move around again.

It had started a slow steady rain by then and I was hoping against hope that every one of them little devils drowned. But they didn’t. After we all got calmed down a bit, I got my bee suit on and went and covered the hive for another time. I had just lost my appetite for honey that day. I was reminded of an old saying I had heard years ago. Every time you are riding a motorcycle and think you are the boss, it will lay you down in the gravel and bark your hide a little just to remind you who’s really in charge. I reckon tending bees is about the same. I got a little cocky with them and they gave me some re-enforcement training, no questions asked. I did everything wrong that I could do wrong. Guess I was lucky I didn’t get hurt worse than I did. You just can’t fight Mother Nature on your terms and win.


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4 comments:

David Wayne Hampton: said...

Ouch! Good story. I've always been fascinated by beekeeping. I've considered taking it up myself one day when I don't have a house full of little kids to occupy me. I'm sure it's labor intensive. Have you had any problems with the strange syndrome wiping out bee colonies? Some say it's cell phone towers interfering with their homing instincts, while others say it's mites or insecticides. I hope whatever it is biologists will be able to stem it or there won't be any insects left to pollinate major crops.

Mike said...

I don't know what it is, but it killed both of my hives. I will order more bees in the spring and start over again. As near as I can tell, it is a disease, akin to American Foul Brood. It wiped them all out last winter.

Varroa mites can be a problem, but if you keep your bees treated and medicated, most things don't bother them too much.

You should try it. I love it. It is relatively inexpensive to get in to and not as labor intensive as you are probably thinking. A little work each spring making sure they are healthy and ready for that first honey flow. Then check them now and then to make sure they are ok and making honey. In the fall, medicate for Foul Brood and such and make sure you leave enough honey for the winter. I usually re-queen in the fall to make sure a good healthy supply of bees make it til spring. They do all the rest.

You can raise bees safely in the country or the middle of town. And kids...they won't bother 'em more than a time or two. lol

Granny Sue said...

Sweet, Mike! I remember when we had bees--i was good at taking care of the honey after harvest, and buying the equipment, but no matter how hard I tried I could not work the hives. We want to get into them again, though--my job will still be the support team, though!

Dawn said...

Great tips incorporated into a great story. I just lost it with the visual “Now, what’s that fool doin’? Out there in the driveway break dancin’ in the rain!” and am still laughing!