The Bee Guy

Saturday, August 11, 2007

When Beekeepers Party

<>I took my wife to the “Bee Bawl” at the Eastern Apiculture Society conference in Newark, DE. This is where beekeepers dress up in bee-apparel and get down. There were lots of prizes for most creative, bee hats, bee shoes, etc. One group from The government research lab in Georgia came as hive beetles. That made me want to dress as a giant Coumophos Tab.

One woman wore a halter and white hot pants with the word BEE-HIND printed across her gluteous maximus. Another guy, late sixties, maybe 250 lbs, unhooked his suspenders, dropped his overalls and showed us his bee underwear. He posed with the babe for pictures. I didn’t take any. The lighting was terrible. Maybe it will make the cover of Bee Culture. Editor Kim must have snapped half a thousand pictures that night. I suggested he could put me on the cover. He shoved me up against the wall and snapped a dozen. I came as a yellow jacket drone.

One of the great paradoxes of beekeeping: The practioners of the art are mostly old guys with Santa Claus beards and drooping bellies. The government and university researchers are cute young chicks (and some middle age cute chicks). The lesson to undergrads: if you want to make money, study law or software engineering. If you want to find cute young girls, you have to be a beekeeper.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Hive making workshop at the EAS Conference

<>Taught by David Peregmon, one of the EAS Directors. This sounds interesting and I expect to attend, Thursday, Aug 9 at the U of Delaware. David works on hands in his spare time—physical therapy, I think. He sees a lot of hands damaged by woodworking machinery so you can expect a lot of warnings about safety.
Most of my power tools are 50-100 years old, so I don’t even know what safety guards look like. It’s a good rule of thumb, whether you have safety guards on not: make jigs that cover the blades so you can’t even reach them with your hands.

Making Hand Holds on a Table Saw

The most often asked question on making your own beekeeping equipment: How do you make professional looking hand holds? The answer appeared in the July issue of Bee Culture. You make a jig that holds the tops and sides over the table saw blade. Taking multiple light cuts, tilt the arbor while the blade spins, raise the blade a little more and return to the 90 degree position. Raise the blade again and tilt. Repeat until done. You are cutting sideways, using the saw’s set to remove the wood. The result is superior to the commercial molding cutters because there is no tear out. The disadvantage: it takes almost a minute to cut one hand hold.

In the near future, we’ll have the plans available at .

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Beekeepers Secret Lives

I recently received a newspaper clipping from an old friend living in southern California, titled The Secret Lives of Beekeepers. The author must have attended a bee club meeting, not unlike ours here in Steuben County. She interviewed several beekeepers. All preferred to remain anonymous. These beekeepers offered no free jars of honey to neighbors and they conceal their hives behind bushes or on rooftops. The beekeepers “meet at night” and keep their activities “under the radar”.

Journalists learn in collage to approach their subject from an “angle”, in this case the public’s fear of bees forces beekeepers to keep to themselves. Another article from my mother-in-law from New Hampshire used a mystical angle—“The ancient art of beekeeping”, “rhythms of birth and renewal” and “smoke like incense wafts over the combs.” My sister clipped an article from the Geneva Times several years ago—Beekeeping a Dying Craft.”

The common denominator running through all these articles is the “mystery” of beekeeping. Beekeepers are like a brotherhood that originated in the ancient past. We possess secrets that go back at least as far as the Egyptians, sort of like apicultural freemasons.

I like the way writers portray beekeepers. It gives us an air of mystery and intrigue. When I answer a swarm call, I often arrive to find a small crowd of onlookers. Over their lifetimes they’ve read several of these beekeeping articles. They gasp as I stick my bare hand into the swarm and slowly draw it out, covered with bees. They draw back as I shake the bees into a swarm box.

“How do you know when you have caught the queen?” the woman asks.

“The bees tell me,” I say, forgetting that while other beekeepers know what I mean, the woman thinks I possess a psychic power.

She turns to her husband, another ten yards back. “Did you hear what the man said? He said the bees talk to him!”

Like a magician, I like to have a beautiful assistant, usually my daughter. I hand her the bee-coated swarm box and she puts it in the trunk of the car, loose bees and all. With a slight bow and, if I’m lucky, a modest transfer of money in my direction, we leave.

Ariele looks perplexed. “That was weird. I didn’t know people could be that afraid of bees. They acted like you have special powers.”

“By day a mild mannered lumber seller, but when a terror stricken person calls for help, he leaps into a white suit and veil—the marvelous, mysterious Bee Guy.”

Maybe we should invite a reporter to a bee meeting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Queen Rearing For Dummies

Why do beekeepers avoid making their own queens? Grafting Queens is so simple, even a child can do it. To prove it, I hired my two apprentices, Tator Tot and Spud Head to do the grafting for me, mostly because their young eyes can see the nearly microscopic larvae better than me. Grafting involves removing 12-24 hour old honey bee larvae from cells and placing them in prepared queen cells and putting those into a queenless colony. The bees feed them, turn them into queens and just before the queens emerge, we will take them out and put them into small "nucleus" hives to mate and hopefully grow into large colonies.

Kids love contests.

“We’ll each graft ten queens. Whoever has the most accepted by the bees, wins a prize.”

“Yay!” they both shouted in unison. “What’s the prize?”

I led them to the back of the barn and opened the secret treasure drawer. “This.” I said, “Is a genuine young beaver skull. The Iroquois used to remove the incisor teeth, lash it to a handle and sharpen it into a crooked knife. They’d use it to hollow out wooden bowls.”

“Ooh!” shouted the girls. “Let’s go!”

Will Tator Tot and Spud Head graft successful queens?

Who will win the coveted beaver skull prize?

How did a young mouse get lost inside Tator Tot's coveralls?

And what about Collapsing Colony Syndrome?

Tune in next week for “Preparing the Cell Builder Colony”

To be continued…

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Monday, March 26, 2007

4 years of beekeeping without chemicals

Sunday, sunny and 50 degrees F, I checked the condition of my colonies. At first it looked like 8 of nine survived. It turned out live hives were harvesting from the dead ones. Looking more closely I lost two—one showed signs of laying workers during the winter. The other came from a late swarm that lost its queen in the Fall. A third has dwindled to only a handful of bees. A smart beekeeper would break up the colony. I’ll probably put them in a nuc just to give them a chance.

For no mite, foulbrood, or nosema treatments, this is a good survival rate. Later this spring I’ll graft a batch of queens from the healthiest hives (no I don’t count mites. I’m too lazy).

Now that we have a new “disease”—colony collapse disorder, or CCD, I imagine it will be blamed on a lot of dead colonies that died of other causes. I think I’ve suffered from CCD for years.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How to handle negative spouses

Thanks to the lumberguy for sending me this question. He's not very good with questions outside his area of expertise, but has the wisdom to send the tough ones to me:
>Hi Peter,

>I bought some poplar from you for hives a few weeks ago. I'm

>presently busy milling the lumber- I don't know why I don't pay you

>to do it... The job always ends up taking me about 20 minutes a

>board foot, what with cleaning and rearranging the shop, resetting

>the breakers, taking out splinters, refilling the kerosene heater,

>putting out the fires, etc.

> I have a few more questions re: beekeeping, e.g. how does one convince one's wife

>they are not certifiably insane for wanting to keep insects prone to

>sting nearby when one's annual honey consumption is about a pound

>and a half, and said spouse doesn't eat any?



Dear Dick,
This spousal problem will resolve itself in time. She'll spend several hours reviewing the marital vows looking for loopholes. Eventually you'll come home with eyes swollen shut and a bee venom "buzz". She'll think to herself, "I told him so." You'll be thinking, "So this is why guys keep bees." Plus your honey consumption will increase when you start harvesting. Living nearby, just remember the beeguy pays more for bucket quantities of high quality honey than other area honey wholesale buyers.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tator Tot experiences a sudden and unexpected descent

<> Tator tot, my 11 year old apprentice, called. She found a couple suspicious “facts” in her textbook concerning bees. Rather than trust the book, she called the Bee Guy. “Is it true bees feed royal jelly to larvae for the first three days after hatching from the egg?”

“Yes. That’s why you can raise queens from larvae up to 3 days old. Worker and queen larvae eat the same food for the first 3 days. However, the diet may not be quite the same because 24 hour larvae are believed to make better queens. Perhaps the royal jelly fed to queens is richer or they are fed greater quantities.”

“What about bee bread—the book says queens eat royal jelly all their lives. I thought they ate bee bread.”

“Bee bread is pollen. That’s what bees feed to the growing worker larvae. It helps build strong bodies twelve ways. I don’t know if workers eat it themselves but if they do it’s not much at all. Queens eat just royal jelly as far as I know.” Although the bee guy is an unauthorized Master Beekeeper, he only scored an 81% on the exam.

We discussed Tator Tot’s hive, an August swarm that managed to gather less than 10 lbs of honey and will probably die over the winter. Then we discussed paint ball and boys who shoot at dogs with bb guns and how to build ant farms. Somewhere in the discussion, Tator Tot's voice became muffled and I heard a curious scuffling noise.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Guy, but I need to put you on hold. I’ll be right back.” “Hold” at the Tot house must mean covering the mouthpiece because I heard more muffled sounds and voices.

“I’m back.”

“What happened?”

“I was sitting in the rocking chair with a glass of grape juice and rocked too far and fell over backwards.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, except for grape juice all over everything.”

“Doesn’t your mother make your use a sippy cup?”

“I’m almost twelve years old.”

“When do kids stop using sippy cups?”

She asked her mother. “When they’re about three. Mom says maybe we should buy some.”

The subject turned to honey and honey prices. Tator Tot has found several potential honey buyers but she is concerned about stealing some of my customers.

“It’s a competitive world out there. You can try to put me out of business and I’ll try to put you out of business. It’ll be fun.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

After about half an hour, Tator Tot’s mother made her say good bye. Mothers are so mean.