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Archive for May, 2013

Spring is in the air – finally – and I am ready.

You might remember last winter I took a few community ed classes – scuba diving, handguns and beekeeping.  While it may seem like an odd combination these are all things that interest me. 

That explains a lot – don’t you think?

Anyway, it is spring so therefore it is time for me to try out one of the interests for real.  As of a week ago I am a beekeeper! 

Anyone who knows me may have already guessed it didn’t happen without mishap – this is me we’re talking about after all.

 

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I have always loved bees – they are fascinating creatures and even though I have been stung several times that did nothing to dim my fascination for the little darlings.  Last summer when I noticed a lack of bees at the ranch I knew it was time to get serious.   The very first thing you learn when you decide to keep bees is that it actually takes some time and a lot of planning before the bees even show up.

Since the internet is a wealth of information I started there and that is where I first came across information on the Warre hive (Pronounced War-ray).   These hives, also known as the People’s Hive were created by a French Abbot – Emile Warre (1867-1951) who had studied bees and hive designs for many years.  In fact he had spent most of his life building different types of hives and testing them, usually a dozen of each model.  Instead of creating a hive that was built to be the best for the beekeeper and to get the most honey production he designed a hive that is the healthiest for the bees themselves. 

Besides that, they are easy to make and can be built for around $40.00 per hive compared to $250 – $300 for a Langstroth hive.   The plans, along with the book written by Abbe Warre are free on the internet!!!  Either google Beekeeping for All or go to:

http://www.natural-beekeeping.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/beekeeping_for_all.pdf

And for a builder’s guide with measurements in inches instead of mm’s go here:

http://thebeespace.net/category/warre-hive-construction-guide/

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Here’s one of the hives (full of bees) on May Day – we woke up to 2″ of snow.  The jar of sugar water is their feeder.

Top Bar hives are built to let bees do what they naturally do.  Imagine a wild honey bees’ home – a  hollow tree.  Warre hives aren’t round but they are smaller than the hives you see all over the countryside – the better to keep warm in the winter.  When bees move into a new tree they start at the top and build their comb downward, starting with brood comb that soon hatches out and is then filled with honey as new comb is built below for new brood.  Since the brood is always growing in new comb supposedly there is less disease.  Summer passes, and the tree fills with honey from the top down.  In hives with frames (the most common hives you see) extra boxes, or supers, are added to the top of the hive forcing the bees to build up.  Warre Hives are the opposite – the whole hive is lifted and the new boxes are added to the bottom allowing them to continue building downward.  In the fall you harvest the boxes of honey off the top without really opening the hive and disturbing the bees.

Makes sense to me.  So I built two of them last fall.

My education continued last winter when I attended a beekeeping class in Rapid City.  I was hooked and couldn’t wait for spring.  I ordered 2 packages of bees on January 2nd and then  patiently (hey – I tried) waited for the bees to arrive – sometime in April or May.  The guy who taught the class also was the one who would be coordinating the bee shipment so I checked with him several times and again on Friday and was told the packages of bees would be leaving Nebraska Friday night and would be ready to pick up Saturday morning in Rapid.  I quickly set up my hives and told everyone who would listen that “THE BEES ARE COMING, THE BEES ARE COMING!!!

Since I was making a trip to Rapid and since I am an obsessive multi-tasker, I had several errands lined up as well.  I mean – why waste a trip?  We have been cleaning out the garage which was full of stuff from Dan’s folks’ house so I filled my pickup with boxes of items to donate to the local Goodwill.  It looked like a mobile rummage sale with every available nook and cranny packed to capacity with everything from old wool suits to ceramic ducks.  I had my list made out – all numbered and listed in order so I would not waste a moment because I had to get back to the ranch ASAP!  Both our boys would be here for the weekend and since we had extra help, Hubby decided we should brand the calves.  I was feeling rather proud of myself Friday night for being soooo well organized – right up to the time the phone rang at 9:00 pm.

It was the bee guy who informed me that he had messed up and hadn’t ordered my bees.  He apologized and told me for sure they would be in the next shipment 2 weeks later.

I was bummed…  I was sad…  I am not a patient woman…

I sat up late, drinking beer and tatting into the wee hours of the night and mostly feeling sorry for myself.  But Hubby was thrilled that there would be one more set of hands to order around Saturday morning.

We got up early, saddled horses and gathered cattle.  We got them in with few mishaps and spent a good amount of the morning sorting cattle into one corral, calves into another and bulls into the last one.  The bulls were first through the chute.  We doctored the sick one, treated them all for parasites, checked them over and turned them back into the ‘horse pasture’.  Next came a few yearlings – the ones that didn’t go to the sale last fall because they were too small.  They got the same checkup plus they got branded too.  It was nearly 11:00 so I ran up to the house to check on dinner and before I could open the door I heard the beeps of the answering machine.

You guessed it – 5 calls.

“We’ve got extra bees if you can get up here to get them.”

“Where are you?  Are you coming for the bees?”

“You have to come get them if you want them.  We’ll be here till 10:00.”

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, covered in a thick layer of dust and manure, reeking of poop & branding smoke and basically looking like something the cat hawked-up.  The guys down at the corrals were getting the cows into the alley at that very moment so there was no way I could just jump in my pickup and head to Rapid.  By this point I was pissed and wanted to sit down and cry but thankfully the last message was from one of our neighbors.

“JoAnn, my son-in-law is in Rapid City picking up his wife’s bees.  He heard the bee guys mention your name and called to find out if you were the one that lived out our way.  He was wondering if you would like him to bring your bees too?”

I tripped over the chair and sprawled on the floor as I scrambled for the phone, dialing the number as fast as I could with crap encrusted fingers. By the time our neighbor answered the phone his son-in-law (whom I had never met but already loved like a member of the family) was headed for home  – with my bees and the tools I had ordered!!!

“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!  They told me my bees weren’t coming this time…  We’re in the middle of working cattle…  Tell him THANK YOU!!!  I’ll meet him at the end of he road at noon.”

I raced back to the corrals to share the news.  Hubby wasn’t exactly thrilled but what do you do?  I helped push cows through the chute for an hour than sped out to the end of the road and waited for half an hour before this wonderful young man showed up with a SUV buzzing with bees.  We sorted out my stuff and quickly made plans to get together soon to compare bee notes before I headed back to the ranch with roughly 20,000 bees and one nervous little dog in the pickup. 

Of course when I heard the bees weren’t coming I had put away all the stuff I had gathered up.  So I ran through the house like a crazy woman.  I had planned on buying a bee suit when I picked up the bees but since that didn’t happen I grabbed one of Hubby’s large white work shirts, tightened my belt around it, crammed on my hat and the veil I had made to fit over it, pulled on my new bee gloves that reach up to my armpits, and even stopped long enough to tie ribbons around my legs to keep the bees from flying up my pant legs.  Talk about your cheap thrills!  I ran out the door armed with a spray bottle and 2 quart jars of sugar-water and absolutely no idea what I was doing.

For months I had pictured this moment in my mind.  I had read every book I could get my hands on.  I had watched videos on You Tube of calm, cool and collected people dressed in spotless white suits gently introducing their bees to their new homes. 

“Take your time…  Don’t rush…  Remain calm…”

None of that was me. 

I was stressed, smelly, dirty and looked like I had been living in a barn.  Besides that, I was in a hurry and for the life of me I couldn’t remember a damn thing I had learned.  

So I winged it.

There wasn’t time for me to figure out how to run my shiny new smoker so I didn’t even try.  Instead I sprayed the bees with a fine mist of sugar-water through the screened sides of the box.  Then I lifted off the cover of the first hive and opened up the bars across the top.  Turning to the box of humming bees I lifted out the tin can of sugar-water and hanging there beneath it was a cluster of the most beautiful bees you ever saw!  They hung there like a bunch of grapes, happily humming as they waited their turn at the sticky juice.  It took me a few moments to figure out where the queen was but finally realized her cage was hanging just inside the box attached to a metal strap the stuck out through a slit in the top of the box.  I lifted her out but couldn’t even see her through the mass of bees that surrounded her.  I brushed some of them aside and the air filled with bees.  It was great!!!

Then I turned the box upside down and dumped a great mass of bees into their new home.   I pulled the cork from the bottom of the queen cage and stuck in the chunk of candy that she and the workers would have to eat through to release her then hung the cage inside the hive from one of the top bars. 

I couldn’t get all the bees out of the package so I sat it near the entrance and quickly put the top back on the hive.  I ran to the second hive and did the same steps. I didn’t know if I had done it right or messed up badly but when I ran back to the first hive I was thrilled to see guard bees at the entrance with their tails in the air and their wings fanning the scent of the hive out for the other bees to home in on.  And most of them had – only a couple remained in the box.

These truly are amazing creatures.

I wanted to stay and watch but knew I had to get back to the corrals.  I stripped off the gloves, white shirt and veiled hat while running to the pickup.  Jumped in and gunned it down the driveway to the corrals, hyped up on bee thrills and adrenaline only to get chewed out for taking so long!

Apparently, things had gone bad as soon as I left.  The cows didn’t want to go through the chute and a couple of them had even thrown hissy-fits once they got in the chute and pretty much busted it up.  Any ranch wife will tell you that when things go good it’s because her husband has planned it so well but when things go bad it is her fault – even if she is miles away at the time. 

Here’s a couple of photos of me in my crazy ranch wife bee suit.  I have been feeding them sugar-water until the flowers and trees start blooming and they are hungry little ones as they can polish off a quart in about 2 1/2 days.

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 Interesting fact:  The US Department of Agriculture lists honey bees as livestock so I guess you could say we have increased our herd by over 20,000 head!

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Steve isn’t sure what to think of this whole ‘bee’ thing but he is fearless when it comes to livestock.

 

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