homepage logo

The Birds And Bees

By Staff | May 18, 2011

Now that I have your attention, I want you to know my story is really about just bees. Honeybees to be correct.

I have, this spring, decided to be become a keeper of bees or as known in scientific circles, an apiarist.

Truth is I am a novice in the art of beekeeping, but I am willing to learn and be stung a few times for my effort. By the end of the summer when I say the word honey, you will not know whether I am talking of the pure sweet golden kind from my bees or my sweet wonderful wife.

It always pays to be careful when talking of bees or wives, they both sting.

I have several fruit trees on the farm, that over the last few years have not produced a good crop of fruit. Apple, peach, and pear trees are big enough to produce fruit each summer season but they have had a couple of disappointing years. The cherry, plum, nectarine, and watermelon trees are big enough to have a good fall harvest if the bees work their magic.

I had one problem in my grand plan of having my own bountiful fruit orchard: no bees.

No bees mean no fruit. There were a few of the small black bees that visited my trees in bloom, but they did not seem to cross pollinate the trees very well.

The large black and yellow bumble bees visited trees but spent more time rolling on the ground fighting than pollinating. They obviously never heard “Make pollination, not war” in the Bumble Bee world.

Bees perform an important function in pollinating most of the crops farmers harvest each year.

These small insects fly from bloom to bloom in search of nectar to transform into honey. As they go about their work they also carry pollen from one bloom to another which helps cross pollinate.

This act of nature makes it possible for our fruits and vegetables to grow. Without the honeybee vegetarians would soon die out.

To help productivity I decided this year I was going to become a beekeeper in hopes of helping my trees.

I set about reading and trying to understand the fascinating world of beekeeping. Through out the winter I read a couple of books on the subject. I also tried to remember some of what my father-in-law had taught me when he kept bees many years ago.

I had some experience with the bees when I helped him work his hives. My job was too lift and tote the boxes of honey and get stung.

I did all this very well if I remember my sore back and swollen hands. I figured that was a good base for my adventure as a beekeeper.

Steve Conlon, owner of Thistle Dew Farms was my source of bees for my colonies.

Each April, Steve travels to Georgia and picks up hundreds of new bee colonies to return to West Virginia to supply bee keepers all over the state. This year he returned with 450 hives.

Hives 449 and 450 were my new colonies. The small boxes are filled with about three pounds of bees. I read somewhere there were approximately three to four thousand bees in the small wooden box.

I tried to count them, but they would not hold still and they all kind of looked alike to me.

The queen was a different story. She traveled in her own private chamber, tended by a half dozen worker bees. In one end of the chamber was a piece of sugar candy that the worker bees fed to the queen. Kind of makes you believe she laid on a small recliner as bees fanned her to keep cool as a few others fed the new queen.

My queen stood out from all the rest; she had a pretty blue dot right in the middle of her back. The blue dot kind of went with her multiple eyes.

The next step in the process was to set up my hives using wax foundation from last season that I got from Steve. He explained it helped to kick start the new hives.

If they had wax chambers they could start building their new hive a little easier. I also placed a narrow plastic chamber inside the hive that I filled with sugar water. This supply of sweets gave the colony an easy food source for the first few weeks.

Now comes the interesting part, getting the queen out of the box of a thousand of adoring bees and into the new hive. She is sealed inside the small chamber with the workers and over a few days they will eat their way through the candy and out of the small box.

She is new to this group of bees and if she was placed among bees from this colony to soon they would see her as an intruder and end her rein as queen.

By placing her in the new hive of bees for a few days they gradually become use to her smell and welcome their new queen, blue dot and all.

With the queen safely in the hive comes the part I did not look forward too, getting thousands of bees out of a four-inch hole into their new home. I quickly open the box and dumped the mass of bees into the hive. I guess two thousand went in straight off. Trouble was two thousand more did not.

I shook the box and thumped it hard with my hand. By now I could not hear myself think as a few thousand angry bees surround my head and begged me to come out from my protective netting. After a few minutes, they forgot about me and found their way into the hive where the queen awaited in her travel chamber.

I quickly found out a little experience and patience went a long way when handling bees.

The fruit trees on the farm are now in bloom and soon the hills around the valley will be adorned with the sweet smell of locust blossoms and honeysuckle flowers.

My new colony will take their place insuring the plants and trees of the area will produce a harvest from nature through out the warm summer season and vegetarians will again survive for a while longer.

As my hives grow I will let you know of my progress in the coming summer months in pursuit

of fresh fruits and honey. When I speak of honey I do mean the thick, sweet, golden kind.

If I said in pursuit of my other honey, she would not appreciate the world knowing I call her “Honey” when I look Thru the Lens.