Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hives 2 & 3

Hives 2 & 3 were easier to get than 1, 4, & 5, because we bought them. In Philadelphia, MS, an industrious couple married for fifty years have a thriving bee business. Mr. Johnny Thompson (shown at left) manages several hives for both honey and queen/nuc production. Mark bought the new queen for Hive 1 from Mr. Johnny, and in this picture Mr. Johnny is transferring a "package" of bees from his nuc box (the small one on the right) to our hive box on the left. I think we bought a queen and 4 or 5 frames that had established comb, brood cells, and "baby bees" as Mark calls the larvae. And why not? The word "larvae" is gross.

Please notice in the picture that Mr. Johnny is wearing regular clothes, a bee veil, and gloves. Please notice that my husband is wearing regular clothes and no protective gear. On this particular night, if I recall correctly, he got several bee stings behind his right ear. For some reason, he waits until *after* he's discovered the bees are feeling aggressive before he puts on any gear. Makes no sense to me.

Ahem. Back to Hives 2 & 3. When we first arrived at the Thompsons' house, Mr. Johnny showed Mark how he was using rubber bands to hold pieces of comb in empty frames. This technique and all of the information Mr. Johnny shared that night have helped us immeasurably. Then a major storm blew through, so we took refuge inside the house, where we discovered Mrs. Thompson creaming corn (and she gave me a new idea on how to do it that proved very effective when the sweet corn came in), making chicken and dumplings, and draining honey in their homemade system of filters and containers. Mark couldn't resist buying the single jar of cut chunk honey she had for sale.

Once the rain settled and we'd toured Mr. Thompson's extensive shop with enough hive bodies and components to become a nationwide distributor, we went to get the bees, as seen in the photo. For more information on package bees, go to Bees Online, which includes a video of installing a package of bees.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Night Date

The trip to get Hive 5 was postponed due to technical difficulties, meaning Mark got busy loading equipment and mowing in the near-dark. So we're having a hot date night, going to Macon to get bees.

If anyone had told me 3 years ago this is where I'd be and what I'd be doing, I'd have suggested therapy.

Now they probably think I need it.

Image from WinstonSalemFirst.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bringing Home the Bees: Hive 5

Mark is taking some equipment to a work site tonight so he can come back through Macon and pick up Hive 5. If Hive 4 hadn't gone so easily (details in a future post), these bees would have been at Prairie Blossom Bee Farm first.

Hive 5 is the first colony of bees mark has moved from their established home inside a building. Remember when I wrote about Hive 1 and said the owner of the hardware store had two hives at his camp house? He actually had 3 colonies, but one was in a tree by the road, and Mark felt it would be dangerous to attempt to remove them. So that left bees in the old dairy barn, and bees in the old house. Hive 5 is the dairy barn bees.

And boy, were they a challenge. Mark had to build his platform up high, as they were going through a hole at the top of the board. Once he got the screen cone and the bee box in place, complete with sugar water sprayed in it to attract the bees, they started going in a hole at the bottom of the board. Realizing there were too many holes in the board, he decided to return another day to tear out the board and just start moving comb and bees. This process has taken weeks, with trips to Macon to feed them, check the old hive area, put in the moving screen, etc.

At long last, he's bringing them home tonight. Welcome to the farm, Hive 5!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Back in the beginning, when we first started investigating bee keeping, we talked to Carl Haaland, the father of one of my best friends, Marie. She'd told me he was bringing her a hive he'd built, a top bar hive, and that he'd mentioned a trip to Mississippi.

We talked to Carl, and found out that he had researched cypress wood, and that Heartwood in Star, MS was going to be his destination if he could get to MS from Texas. To be honest, I was more excited about seeing Carl than seeing any hives.

Little did I know, Heartwood has so much more than "cypress." True, they have the best value (read: least expensive) cypress boards for bee hives you can buy if you're prepared to assemble them yourself. However, they are the only, I repeat, the only remaining birdhouse manufacturer in the United States. For that reason alone, I wish everyone would give them business. It turns out they're also a household name in some parts of the country for the sheer architectural splendor of their birdhouses. Trust me, you haven't seen a birdhouse until you've see The Barrington. They also have butterfly, ladybug, and bat houses.

So, if you want to put less money and more sweat equity into constructing your first bee hive, you'll want to check out Heartwood, though hives aren't listed on their Web site. It's worth the call. Or if you want a "Made in America" gift for the person who has everything, check out their other products.

For the record, Mark has made at least two trips to Heartwood without me. He has *not* returned with The Barrington. Or the Copper Songbird Deluxe. Or even the modest Bungalow, pictured below.

Picture used without permission, from the Heartwood Web site. Please don't tell on me. I'm desperate, deprived of a birdhouse of my own.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Near Dark on the Bee Hill

Mark wanted to set out two more hive stands (the last two of the original six) tonight, so I went along with him to the bee hill. Some day we'll have start calling it Bee Hill and the other hills Bee Bumps 1 & 2, because they don't seem nearly as big. For now, Bee Hill will do, 'cause it's the only with bees on it.

First problem: my camera kept fogging up because the temperature difference between inside and outside is so great. Blech. I deleted the photos, because they made it look like I was in Ye Old England, with fog and atmosphere, and a knife-wielding psycho lurking in the bushes, cue scary music.

For the record, the only things lurking the bushes were a rather stupid deer and many, MANY bugs, not of the bee variety. Which was the second problem: I kept ducking as things buzzed past my head and swatting at my legs, thinking bugs were crawling into my pants.

Most of the bees were already in the hive boxes or crowding around the entrance, trying to get in before nightfall. Here is a photo of Hive 1.

Mark recently added a medium super to the two "deeps" with the idea that the bees will build brood in the two lower boxes, and honey comb in the top, which will see them through the winter. Technically he could harvest the honey, but then might have to feed them through the winter. And let's be honest: he'll be in the woods hunting all winter, so it's just better to let the bees sustain themselves on their preferred food.

Strangely, Hive 4, the newest addition, had zero bees at the entrance. Then I realized they had a feeder inside, so why leave? Apparently bees don't follow that rule about stretching your comfort zone and getting to know your neighbors when you move into a new neighborhood.

After Mark got his stands set, he took the lids off each of the hives to show me the activity inside. Thankfully, each one had a screen for ventilation, so there was no risk of getting stung. That would have been the third problem.

Interestingly, in Hive 3, which hasn't had a super added to it yet, the bees were building comb from the screen down. Mark said he'd checked the hive yesterday, and on one side the frames were full, but the frames on the other side of the hive weren't. Rather than go fill the empty frames, the bees were building on the screen. I think Mark said something about moving the frames around, but frankly I was too busy taking pictures and wondering if ticks were crawling into my socks to pay too much attention.

Now I'm going to follow the bees example and settle in for the night.

NPR Rains on My Parade, Sort Of

One of the most talked-about uses of honey is in fighting allergies. I don't know the source, but somehow Mark learned that raw honey, or honey that hasn't been heated/pasteurized, was better at fighting allergies because it retained more pollen; moreover, honey in the comb was the ultimate allergy fighter as the pollen sticks to the comb.

Recently, a friend who shares my interest in writing and in DIY food production sent me this link to an article by NPR's Morning Edition. Before the text of the article, however, is a well-done video: "Is Honey Good Medicine or Just a Sweet Treat?" She concludes that because bees can't predictably gather pollen from the plants that people are allergic to in any significant amount, honey is not a reliable allergy fighter. For a moment, I was frustrated, because 1) that ruined a good marketing strategy, and 2) Mark has plans to use a build-in-the-package technology next spring, that will result in the bees building honey comb in the plastic containers you use to sell the product, primarily because of its potential to help people with allergies.

Then I remembered that all of the local beekeepers have told him that most beekeepers don't want to fuss with the comb, and it was in high demand, so it was guaranteed to sell. Apparently people love honey in the comb, regardless of its effect on allergies. So, thanks for being just a passing rainstorm, NPR.

(Image from the National Honey Board Web site, which includes a search engine to help you find local honey.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hive 1

As soon as Mark started telling people about his new passion, people began calling with Bee Problems. The first happened to be some friends of ours, who had a colony of bees in a tree by their pond. Under most circumstances, this would be great, as they were growing a garden and bees are excellent pollinators. However, they have an adorable three year old son, and spending time by the pond was not possible due to the bees.
So, Mark researched methods of moving the bees from the tree to the hive. He talked to the professors who taught his 2-day course, to other bee keepers, and combed the internet for info. What resulted was the following sequence of events (which took place over the course of many days, to the chagrin of our friends):
1. Build a platform at a height that allows the bees' current entrance to be at the same height as the entrance of the super. Set up a super containing a sugar-water feeder on the platform.
2. Construct a cone of door screen, and staple it around the tree opening early in the morning before the bees are awake and ready to get outside for the day. Opening of cone should be near the super entrance. Yes, that's duct tape. While buying supplies, owner of hardware store tells you he has 2 colonies at his camp house he'd like removed.
3. Watch bees attempt to navigate their way out of cone, realize something is wrong, and die trying to get out of the cone. Feel badly about it.
4. Cut hole in top of cone to allow bees a small escape route.
5. Nap in the lawn chair while "watching" the bees fly around in confusion.
6. Return a few days later with a new queen in her special container (empty container pictured at right). Install her in the hive body and hope the bees adopt her as their new leader, as their queen is not expected to leave the tree. Add new jar of sugar water.
7. Return after several days to happily find the majority of the bees have relocated to the hive and are drawing wax on the foundation frames. Feed them again.
8. Return several days later to remove the feeder set-up and add the moving screen.
9. Return at night to add entrance closer, strap the hive down, load it in the truck, take down the stand, and drive the bees to the bee hill. (Which required me to stumble uphill over uneven terrain, in the dark carrying one end of the hive, hoping I wouldn't fall and become a news headline.)
10. Because the bees sound Very Agitated, return early in the morning wearing protective gear to remove entrance closer.

That's how Hive 1 began . . . The End. But really, just the beginning.

Welcome to Prairie Blossom Bee Farm, Hive 4!

A bunch of bees who spent the weekend checking out their deluxe new home woke up to a whole new world this morning. As much as I would like to tell them it's a better neighborhood, that there's a field of soy beans blooming nearby, and a variety of watering holes, bees are not cuddly and cute, nor do they care.

Some days I still can't believe huge portions of my husband's time and our money are devoted to insects.

How It All Started

In May of this year, my husband Mark attended a 2-day bee-keeping course offered by Mississippi State University. On May 27th I wrote in my journal that he was "trying to beat the rain" -- he was attempting to clear, sow, and fertilize what became the first bee hill on our property. By that date, he'd also contacted his welder, and construction of the custom hive stands was underway.

So much has changed in just over two months! We now have 3 bee hills lush with bright green millet, and four hives thriving -- two colonies relocated from places they weren't wanted (Hives 1 & 4), and two started from "nucs" purchased from Mr. Thompson in Philadelphia, MS (2 & 3). Mark has gained knowledgeboth through experience and generous mentoring by local beekeepers. I've learned a lot because it's fascinating and Mark is *so excited* about it all he can't help share what he's learning.

The photo shows Mark checking on the bees that eventually became Hive 1. I'll write about our first experience migrating bees in a separate post, as the process may interest other newbies. The kids jokingly call his hodge-podge bee suit his "Sanford Suit" after the old "Sanford and Sons" television show. He wrapped bungee cords around the cuffs of his pants, a nylon strap around his waist, and put his hunting-season mosquito netting over his hat. Yes, that is duct tape around his shirt cuffs.

We've since invested in real gear. Plus hive boxes, hive tools, feeders, feeder patties, enough sugar to amp up an entire elementary school, eco-friendly hive bases, moving screens, entrance closers, paint, and more that I probably don't know about.

Getting started in bee-keeping isn't cheap, but it's a lot of fun. And as far as husband-wife hobbies go, it beats golf and bowling by a long shot.