How does one get interested in something?
I see the Glibs with their skilled hobbies, doing things, making things. I’m not a creative type person, I don’t see the same things when I see a block of wood or piece of metal or an old car that lots of other people see. It’s not that I don’t enjoy those things when someone else creates it, I just see the literal thing.
Instead, I see a seed growing into a plant or a tree or a flower. That I understand. Those things that don’t require any input from me, except maybe for a little care or water or fertilizer. A few years ago a friend invited me to watch him work with his honey bees. Like many or most I had my own ideas as to avoid getting involved; who wants to get stung by those thousands of angry bees? He seemed to know quite a bit, had the suit and hat and seemed oblivious to the dangers I saw. Then we took the frames with the honey to his daughter’s house one Sunday; it was like a party, other people had brought a few frames and I got involved in the processing a little, the spinning and the bottling and was rewarded with a jar of honey to take home. Now I really was interested.
The following Spring my friend asked me if I wanted a hive. He would help me, loan or give me the necessary equipment. He gave me enough to set up a hive and even assembled it out in my yard and I was in business, sort of. I still had no idea of what was going on, but I was helping him and in turn he was helping/teaching me but I still wasn’t too involved in the actual process. We weren’t doing very well; we did everything he knew, but our production was rather limited. Seemed like we weren’t progressing very fast.
Then he decided he wasn’t interested anymore and his daughter kind of got tired of us spreading sticky honey all over her kitchen floor and leaving her to clean up the house and the equipment. She asked if I wanted to borrow her extractor and associated equipment. I had space to store all the equipment inside my garage, along with most of the excess (old and dilapidated) hive boxes and frames. Then I found a young guy (about 50 years old) that was interested and he bought a bee suit and I loaned him some of the equipment I had borrowed. We still weren’t very productive, our ROI was always between very negative and deeply negative.
We did that for a couple years, and a visiting fishing friend was here and was a long time beekeeper with lots of expertise. He looked at our setups and taught us some things we weren’t doing, and that year production shot up. He came again the following year and showed us more of his knowledge and skills, and he worked barehanded with only a hat and veil. Our production has soared for the last 3 years. We’re a long ways from professionals, but it’s sure a lot more fun when the honey is plentiful. Best of all we have a party at the extraction time, with Minnesota Hot Dish Pot Luck being on the menu. Most of my friends and neighbors are rather experienced (old) cooks so the food is good/plentiful and highly seasoned for Minnesota people, ketchup and mustard–but not Dijon–being the staples.
Now, for those who are still reading this, I’ll try to pass on some of the things we do.
We tend to think that beekeeping is only important in the summer when the bees are active, but it really is a year round project, with not much going on in the off season but still a little. We don’t winter our bees over; we have tried but the winters here are too severe. We’ve tried covering them, moving them into a shed, surrounding them with bales of hay. Nothing worked. There is hive clean up in the off season however.
What is needed to have bees and to extract the honey, one of the main purposes of having bees?
For the skilled wood craftsman with a table saw, the boxes are fairly simple to make. For me, however, I buy them precut and assemble them myself. This is a wintertime project that gets me thinking about spring. If you are lucky enough to find some good condition hive boxes on Craigslist or a weekly shopper, even better. The problem with used equipment is there could be diseases or pests included.
A feeder. Here in Central Minnesota our bees come early enough there isn’t any nectar yet available for the bees and they have to be fed. We buy some premade stuff that’s supposed to have protein, but sugar syrup or corn syrup is often used. Follow the recipe for the sugar syrup.
A smoker. They are fairly expensive, about $45 or so but essential. We use dry red pine needles for fuel, creates great smoke.
A hat with a veil. I use a broad brimmed hat with a mosquito net. A bee hat/veil is better, it keeps the bees away from your face better than a mosquito net. Again, pricey, $45 or so.
Long gloves that extend over your sleeves, they have to be flexible enough to use tools but tough enough that the bees can’t sting through them. Kiss another 30-40 bucks away. I use yellow cotton gloves (Mr Cheapskate) but I sometimes get stung around the wrists when the jacket sleeves pull up.
A bee keeper jacket is nice because the veil is zipped directly onto the jacket. Mr CS wears a buttoned up shirt, a jacket zipped all the way up and mosquito net pulled over the turned up collar. So far haven’t gotten bit around the neck or face lately.
A frame tool, about 7-8 bucks but a screwdriver or a flat bar tool for pulling nails would work. The frame tool is a little better. The equipment is available on line, I use Mann Lake Bee Co, mainly because they are only 50 miles away and they have an online catalog as well.
That’s pretty much all the start up equipment.
OK, you found some clean hive boxes and other associated equipment on Craigslist. Buy it all or at least twice as much as you think you’ll need. Make a package offer. Not many people are going to be interested in it, the seller wants to get rid of either the equipment or his/her spouse because often those things may not be compatible.
Where to start
Now that winter is here and all the bee stuff is in my garage, it’s time to start cleaning the hive boxes and frames. Bees are hard workers but tend to be a little untidy inside the hive. They glue everything together with a homemade glue called propolis. I scrape the propolis from the frames and the boxes; it has hardened into something like amber and requires a little work. I like the frames to be clean at the beginning of the season so they can be removed for inspection or moved around inside the hive box.
OK, we’re all cleaned up and finally it’s time to set up the hive in preparation for the bee arrival. I haul my stuff to a location near my garden. It’s a small platform about a foot high and about 6 feet long, big enough for two hives. Has an electric fence around it to keep out bears. We’ve had a few problems over the years and on one occasion required terminal action.
The assembly is bottom board, 2 brood boxes, each with 10 clean frames, feeder tray and top cover. That’s it.
We’ve pre-bought the bees at Mann Lake Bee Co, (Hackensack, MN) and have an appointment on the Saturday after the bees arrived from California, in a 40 ft trailer, usually in May.
We have a ritual. My partner, another friend and I go to pick up the bees. I drive my pick-up. We leave early enough to stop at a country restaurant for breakfast, one of my friends picks up the tab. At Mann Lake it’s a mad house, even though we have an appointment, everyone, including us, arrives a half hour early. There are hundreds of anxious customers. Mann Lake is prepared with lots of people working invoices, sales and helping with the loading. We pick up our protein syrup and any ancillary equipment that we need, head for the bee barn, a greeter takes our invoice and brings out our order of 4 boxes of bees. Bees are sold by the pound; we get 3-pound packages, roughly 10K bees plus a viable queen per pack. The bee boxes remind you of the screened frog boxes you kept your frogs in before they all died waiting for your dad to find the time to take you fishing.
My partner has essentially the same set up at his property, platform/fence/etc. Now we don our bee apparel. We put out his bees first, we spray them with sugar water through the screen, immediately they go into an eating frenzy, cleaning themselves and unconcerned about us. They get roughly dumped into the brood box, my partner opens the queen enclosure and gently places the enclosure in the top brood box. Next comes my attempt to pour the super elixir into the feeder tray, which is now on top of the brood boxes. Cover with the top cover and voila! Do #2 hive and we’re finished. Go to my house and repeat.
After about 2 weeks we will inspect the hives by checking the feeder trays, refilling if necessary.
Usually by this time the bees are finding enough nectar to support themselves. If they seem to be doing well we’ll remove the feeder tray and replace it with a hive box with the clean 10 frames. Now we are hoping that the queen is alive and making babies. We are hoping that in another 2 weeks some of the frames will be filling with honey. I will be doing a visual inspection about 3 times a day, mainly ’cause I am curious and have lots of time, to see if the bees are bringing in pollen.
OK, now it’s been 1 month since we set up the hives and put in the bees.
We do a serious inspection and find some frames are full of honey and capped with wax. We will pull those frames and replace them with empty frames. The honey frames will be placed in plastic bags and put in a freezer in my garage, to avoid any problems with bears or other bees robbing the hive. About every 2 weeks all summer we’ll pull full frames, replace with empty. Sometimes the queen will have moved up into the hive box and begun laying eggs in it. Then we have to use our second hive box so at that point we’re 4 boxes high (2 brood, 2 hive). Happens frequently.
We have about a 3 month season here and with good luck we’ll have close to a 100 or so frames of honey. On the last pull, always the second week end of September, we’ll close out and take all frames that have enough honey in to make it worthwhile. The last step in this stage is to move the bees from my house to my partner’s property. Now instead of 10K per hive we’re looking at 30-40K per hive.
All summer the bees have been rather docile, now they are agitated, we have stripped most all of the honey.
We have the smoker pouring out smoke, that seems to help a little to quiet them down. I pick up a brood box and carry it to the truck. There are thousands of bees that are eager to bite me, I’m the Cheap guy with the short yellow gloves and they have found the skin around my wrists. Finally we get them into the truck, minus those that were flying or foraging when we were busy moving them. Without headgear/veils it would be impossible. This past September, I got hit 7 times that day; the stings aren’t so bad but always itch for a few days. We haul the bees about 5 miles and put them with my partner’s bees. We move the bees to avoid having them around on the following Sunday when we spin out the honey. If we didn’t move them we’d have those bees trying to recover the honey that we had taken all summer and it would be tough to try to work. Innocent folks would get stung.
Now comes the good part.
After the rather routine stuff all summer comes the Honey Harvest. On the 3rd Sunday of September we spin out the honey. We have an extractor that looks like an old fashion ringer washing machine tub. On the day before, I have taken all the frames out of the freezer, put them into empty hive boxes, warmed them up so the honey would flow easier. Early Sunday we start to work, uncapping the frames, spin them in the centrifuge and strain and bottle our work. We have a crew that shows up, some fly in from Dallas/Seattle, some come from Minneapolis. Guests show up about 10-11 AM and the finale is at noon when all the ladies bring out their secret recipes of hot dish and we have a great pot luck lunch. We eat and go back to work, the guests renew their acquaintances and start to drift off. The following day I’ll take a hot water hose out and wash the equipment, let it dry for a day or two and cover it up ’til the next season. Easy-peasey clean up.
Many years ago we started with chips/dip and venison sticks, now its become a great buffet. This year we had about 40 people, some were classmates. The Pope came and blessed our endeavors, hopefully in 2019 we’ll have more Glibs, all are welcome. Family friendly, entertaining, educational.
If any Glibs are interested, go on line to Mann Lake Bee. See their catalog. I have seen hives in Austin, TX, in the city, easy for urban dwellers if you have a privacy fence. Check locally for bee keeper associations, find a club, or best of all, find a partner with some knowledge, help him for a year or two, watch YouTube videos. Don’t expect to make any money selling honey, the equipment is too expensive unless you are serious.
We don’t sell any, just give it away for gifts. One has a lot more friends when one is gifting honey. I’ve heard that there is some potable beverage that can be made with honey and other ingredients. I’ll be happy to entertain questions.