Monday, September 6, 2010

Let Me Tell You About the Bees

A wild swarm of bees being offered a new home.

I have mentioned it quite a bit in the comment section of Beau's blog at Fox Haven Journal and I think even a time or two a couple years back on this one that my parents used to raise around 130 hives of honey bees once upon a time. Being a youth living under their roof, that meant that I spent lots of quality time helping them run the bee business. Mostly that meant that I spent lots of time in winter building hive bodies and frames for the upcoming season and spending the spring and fall extracting all the honey, filtering it, bottling it and helping my mom stock shelves with it on her bi-weekly route that covered a good 100 mile diameter centered about our farm. Among some of my parent's slides, I found these slides pertaining to their bee business and thought I would blog about them.

This picture is of an automatic decapping machine which removed the wax plugs that the bees used to seal their honey into the combs. Most of the years my parents owned the business we did all the decapping manually with a heated knife but towards the latter years when we were at the largest business wise, we did invest in this machine. For the most part it worked okay though we still had to go back and touch up most of the frames since the bees never used rulers to keep everything the same height.

This is our large extractor that held 30 or so frames. Like the decapper, this was obtained later on in the business when things got bigger. For most of the years, we used either a hand crank two frame extractor or a hand crank four frame extractor. My job was to supply the muscle to turn the crank.

This was our bottling station. The honey ran from the extractor down into a pit where it was pumped up through cheesecloth filters into these two tanks set on top of the platform. Then one could comfortably sit on a chair and fill lots of hand labeled glass bottles and plastic bears for resale. Since we raised more honey than we could sale via a delivery route on a part time basis, we also sold in bulk. This steel barrel would hold 50 gallons of honey and I think we often times had six or eight of these full of honey.

This picture is of a wild swarm that while catchable, was more difficult to deal with due to the fence and high weeds in the vicinity.

This is also a wild swarm but much easier to catch. We would set an empty hive body usually with a little honey to help feed them until they gathered their own set on top of a white sheet. The sheet helped them crawl to the hive without getting lost in the grass and white is a soothing color that doesn't irritate the bees as much as bright colors.

Here the bees can be seen in their new homes. The lower two boxes were called brood boxes where the queen lived, laid eggs, and honey for overwintering was stored. Then there was a narrow filter of sorts put in-between those bottom two boxes and the top ones to allow the worker bees to pass through but prevent the larger queen from doing so. This allowed the top boxes to be filled with honey without the added protein of bee larvae and made for a more attractive product to sell.


Vince said...

I've been reading a bit on this subject for the past while.
The fact I found totally unbelievable was the volume that healthy Bees could produce.

sage said...

THanks for this post--that's quite a sticky operation you had going :)

Beau said...

That's really neat... Your memories and experiences are wonderful. I can hardly imagine so much honey! Maybe one day you'll get another hive or two :)

Murf said...

I was excited at the prospect of those being your arms but upon closer inspection, I'm thinking that they aren't. ;-)

Our city recently okayed chicken coops and shortly thereafter, along came the bee people wanting their okay which they now have. I thought about it for a moment until I read a story about a female beekeeper being attacked by a swarm of bees and the firemen having to spray here with their hose. I'm all for running into firemen however I have to but I'll pass on this way.

Ed said...

Vince - Lazy and bees are two words never in the same sentence.

Sage - It certainly brings back memories.

Beau - My wife talks about it. Perhaps someday when we are living outside of town.

Murf - Yes, cropped to protect the identity of those involved. ;) Speaking of your state, I think I read where your state fair was cancelled this year.

Murf said...

You are correct. This is the first year without it although I've never been to any of them.

edifice rex said...

Cool! that's all pretty interesting. i don't think I would ever want to keep bees myself though. I'm not sure why.

warren said...

Great beekeeping story! I am envious of the equipment though I don't have enough to justify it!

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - Bees are not for everyone.

Warren - Your bee sting story is what brought me to your blog. Welcome to mine.

TC said...

One of the guys I graduated high school with lived on a 'bee farm.' I remember going up there a few times, and checking everything out. Pretty cool for me, but I assume and it wasn't so great living and working it all the time.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I enjoyed the bee story. I started to write a comment but was interrupted by a minor family emergency.
This may seem off topic, but I have my first "raised garden" where I have tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and munchies like beets an radishes. I also have six tomato plants in five gallon buckets (which has always worked for me) and a couple of those upside down tomato planters. I have grown beautiful tomato plants six or seven feet tall(nice cages) I have, from those tomatoes a total of about a dozen tomatoes. I was told by the county agent when I went to the office to whine that my part of the county just doesn't have any bees. They are not sure why, and are doing experiments. (If I had known I would have pollinated the dang tomatoes with a feather)

IN another part of the county is the house I lived in for the last twenty some years. I am now renting it to college students. It is a brick house into which the exterminator drilled a bunch of half in holes about eighteen inches above the brown into which he sprayed termite killer (with some success) When my students were moving out, they took me inot one bedroom that had a patch of dead bees about three inches deep and two or three feet across. It seems that the bees moved into those holes in the outside wall, and many of them found a way through the concrete floor into that bedroom, but couldnt find a way back, and as close as I could tell, they dehydrated and died in a pile. I have fumigated the house, sprayed poison into all those little holes (whence bees crawled out and died) but my new renters are still a little psyched when the see bees in the neighborhood. (wish they had come to live in my current backyard and I might have had some tomatoes)