Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings




Looking for a queen bee!

The Gals Are Back! You might recall that last year I got a colony of bees from my friend Ken at Mid Ohio Honey. We met when he and Lori had stopped in at the Old Fire House and spent the rest of the afternoon listening to my play. One thing lead to another and the next thing you know Ken and Lori are dropping off a box full of bees at my house last June. Anyway, the girls seemed to be thriving all summer and fall but last winter was just too much for them and that exceptionally cold spell we had in Febuarary after the exceptionally cold spell we had in January brought about their demise. After pestering Ken for about two months we finally confirmed a date and Last week I drove down to his place near Mansfield to pick up a couple packages of bees. If this sounds a little strange it really isn’t once you get past the notion that you are dealing with several pounds of insects that are capable of stinging you. Bee keeping has a long history and it is yet one of many really remarkable stories of how the relationship between people and animals has evolved. Beekeepers do all kinds of interesting things and I was about to participate in one I hadn’t seen before. My history as a beekeeper has had varied ups and downs but having once tasted the sweet taste of success (yuk yuk) I have found myself from time to time wanting to get back into the hobby. So here I am going off to a bee yard with Ken the real bee man. A bee yard by the way is a place where there are several hives of bees, Kens’ bee yard happens to be surrounded by blue berries. We get to the bee yard aka. Apiary and Ken pulls this giant metal funnel out of his truck. I had asked him if I should take a veil, that is one of those funny net hats that you see bee people wearing in all the photos. Matter of fact in most of the photos you see bee people wearing all sorts of special clothing. They sort of look like HAZMAT crews with white coveralls, gloves and the funny hats. And there is good reason for this. A colony may have 100,000 bees. The first time I moved a hive I had a bunch of impromptu protective clothing and I got stung more than a dozen times but that is another story. But since then I would like to think that I have learn a few chops (that is a guitarist phrase which means I think I have learned a thing of two) about handling bees. For one thing, I have developed this approach of moving very slow and deliberately whenever I am working with them, this seems to make a big difference. Zen, Me and Bee make three. So when Ken said he wasn’t going to use a veil I thought “Cool, I won’t either. Ken Hands me this giant metal funnel and pulls a couple little bee packages out of his truck. They actually use these packages to ship bees. If you have ever seen a coop they ship chickens in these packages are like this only in miniature. (But the chances that you have seen a chicken coop are remote so I don’t know why the heck I even mentioned it. I used to work on chicken farms when I was a kid and occasionally forget no one else I know has.) Anyway back to the little bee coops. They are about the size of a shoebox with screened sides and a wooden top and bottom. The top has a round hole in it that is covered with a screen once the bees are in the box. We were going to “shake down” the bees into the package. I had no idea what that was about but hey this is how you learn. We fired up the smoker, which is this little metal thing about the size of a coffee can with a bellows on the side and a funnel on the top. You put a bunch of paper and grass in it and light it. Close the funnel top and use the bellows to puff smoke in to the beehive. This causes the bees to think that there is a forest fire coming so they all set about doing their version of an elementary school fire drill. In other words they get a little pre occupied and in theory don’t mind the plundering that is about to happen. So I follow Ken to the first hive, where he puffs a bit of smoke at them, tears off the cover of the hive and to my surprise pitches it on the ground. Remember what I said about slow and deliberate? Well Ken you see has been a commercial beekeeper, and at one time had something like 2500 hives. With that big an operation time is money. I haven’t ever been around a commercial operator before. He proceeds to pull a frame (a part of the hive that holds honey comb) out of the hive that is simply covered with bees maybe five hundred to a thousand or so, looks it over to make sure that the queen isn’t walking around on it then slams it down into the funnel I am holding. The majority of the bees is flung off the frame into the funnel and down into the bee package. The operative word is majority. Maybe ten of fifteen percent buzz off into the air. We proceed to do this to over and over again and each time a few more bees buzz off into the air. So in no time we are surrounded by quite a cloud of fairly pissed off bees. Ken has a grey tee shirt on, a ball cap and jeans. I have a white long sleeve shirt and jeans. Almost immediately one flies down my shirt. And I have to stop walk away and shake her out. One near miss. Then one makes a “bee line” toward a black wrist support I have on, realizes that the wrist support isn’t skin and promptly walks over to my thumb and drills me. Which is no big deal and I knock her off before she can really give me a good dose. However that little episode is followed by a direct hit to my left cheek right below my eye. I scrape that one off only to be hit immediately in the same place again. Thankfully our first package is full and we walk away back to the truck. Off course we are escorted by a few of the guard bees who have a sworn oath of office to protect the hive several of whom fly directly into my chest to make sure that I know they mean business. While Ken closes up the first package, I dig a veil out of his truck because; I don’t want to take any more shots to the face. And the next round of shake down goes off without a hitch. So know we have maybe thirty thousand bees in two little shoeboxes all ready to go to my house and be introduced into the two empty hives I have waiting with one exception. They need a couple queens. Not to worry. Mr. Bee man, Ken has one hive set up that is something like the bee version of the Tower of London. There is a collection of royalty each in their own little cell. Yep a queen bee trapped in a little plastic cell. Who is ready to be freed by diligent attendants who only have to bust her out by eating a hole in the sugar plug blocking the opening. Ken took two of these little prisons and put one into each of the packages of bees and we were done at the bee yard and were on the road back to Ken’s place. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Lori had made a run to the local store for cold beer and pulled in shortly after we arrived. And while we were walking around trying to figure out what a kind of new tree was growing in the corner of his yard was. (Clammy Locust BTW) I saw that Ken got stung one time on the cheek too. We had a beer on the porch and I played a couple tunes for Ken and the girls, Lori, Jess and Lynn before hitting the road back to the valley. Next up Beetox!