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Bees In My Bonnet

Posted Thursday, June 3, 2010, at 4:39 AM

Back in about 1920, when I was a young boy, I stood back at a safe distance as I watched my grandfather work with his bees. This was back in a time before any scientific methods or designs were being used in the production of honey. Some of his bees were kept in plain old wood boxes, but most of his bees were kept in sections of hollow logs that were referred to as "Bee Gums." They were given that name because most of these hollow logs were made from black gum trees, which had a tendency to grow large and nearly always became hollow. A few crossbars were placed inside these boxes with logs for the bees to hang their honeycomb on. The bottom section of the bee gum was usually about 30 inches long with a board nailed over each end. A few holes were drilled near the bottom of the gum as an entrance for the working bees. A square hole was cut in the top board, and a smaller box was placed over this hole. The first section of this hive belonged to the bees. This was their home, and the second box was where they put Grandpa's share of the honey.

Come harvest time, Grandpa simply went out late in the evening, removed the top box and set it down in front of the hive. When it became dark, most of the bees would leave this box and go into their hive, and Grandpa would carry this box of honey to the kitchen, where he would use his butcher knife to carve out the honey in the comb. He would then use his hands to squeeze the honey from the comb, or just leave the honey in the comb and eat it that way.

In 1975 I decided that it was time to try my hand at raising bees and producing honey as a hobby, so I started reading books on how to manage bees for greater honey production. I soon learned that I could not expect to produce very much honey if I followed grandpa's method. I learned that in order to get maximum production, my bee boxes and frames must be built to exact specifications. I must fill my bee box with frames containing imprinted bee's wax foundation. If it were left up to the bees to design these cells, they would make too many large cells that would produce drones, which do nothing but mate with the queen and eat honey. I also learned that all spaces in this box, except the space where I wanted the bees to put their honey, should be kept at about 3/8 inch. If the crawl space was smaller than 3/8 inch the bees were inclined to waste a lot of their time in filling this space with propolis, which is a product which bees make for filling spaces. Spaces larger than inch would be filled with honey, which would defeat the purpose of the removable frames. One hive of unmanaged bees will usually produce about 25 pounds of honey per year; whereas, the hives of bees that are managed and manipulated by the beekeeper will usually produce over 50 pounds per year.

The beehive usually has only one queen at a time, and when a new queen is produced, the old queen will leave the hive, taking about 50 % of the working bees with her. When leaving the hive, these swarming bees will usually go only a short distance and settle on some object. The alert beekeeper will increase his apiary by capturing these bees and bringing them back in a new hive box.

Capturing these swarming bees can be a very interesting procedure, as they are inclined to settles in some odd and strange places. In one case, a Mr. Green called me to see if I could remove a swarm of bees from his rural mail box. While I was scooping and brushing these bees out of his mail box and into my hive box, a neighbor came by and asked if I had ordered these bees and had them delivered by parcel-post.

In another case, a lady called from Chaffee and asked me to help her by removing a swarm of bees that had decided to make their home under the front steps to her home. These steps were made of wood and were almost like a box. I was having some trouble getting to these bees, so the lady told me to just load the steps in the back of my pick-up truck and take the bees and steps with me. She would build new steps.

By 1990 I had about 30 hives of bees out on the farm and was producing over 100 gallon of honey per year, but on 1993 a disease swept through the area, killing 90% of the bees in Missouri. I lost every bee I had that year.

I still had several bee boxes sitting out in my workshop, and during the winter of 2007 I cleaned up one of these boxes, and come spring I set this box out on my carport, smeared some honey on the wax foundation to attract the bees, and just as soon as it was warm enough for bees to start working they started coming to my hive to get the honey. They surely liked what they saw, and must have told the old queen about this place because on April 16 about two gallon of bees moved in, and I was back in the bee business. I did the same thing again in 2009.

I now had two hives of bees on my carport. Just a few weeks ago, I had an unusual experience with these bees, when about a gallon and a half of them swarmed out and settled on a bush about forty yards down the alley. I looked the situation over and decided that I would fix a hive for them on the carport and just carry the bees to the hive. I put on my bee bonnet, picked up my limb saw and went after them. They were on the bushy end of a limb about two inches in diameter that was bent over nearly to the ground.

I could see that if I just sawed this limb off, it would probably hit the ground so hard that the bees might be disturbed and take off in a frightened flight, so I laid the limb over my shoulder, with the bees at my back. I sawed the limb off in front of me, leaving the limb resting on my shoulder. These bees did not seem to be irritated and practically all of them remained on the cluster. With a few bees swarming around me, I carried them to the carport. With the cover off the hive, I gave the limb a gentle shake and the bees immediately entered their new home. Now I have three hives of bees on my carport.

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Well Mr Corbin, I didn't realize that bees could be attracted to honey. What a way to start a new hive. Perhaps we humans should try a little more honey to attract everything wonderful in life. Could this philosophy be worth giving a try?

Thanks for a great story, your posts are always anticipated with great expectations and we've never been disappointed. have a super day.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Fri, Jun 4, 2010, at 4:51 AM

I wish I'd been there to get a picture of you walking down the street with that stick of bees over your shoulder! That would have been priceless!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Jun 6, 2010, at 6:55 AM

Do you think that the bees know you are there friend Paul? It is known that dogs and cats can sense when a human they know is approaching while the person is still miles away. Do you think that your bees know when you are approaching or around? I recently read that crows can identify individual people, and they warn each other of humans they know are mean. Do you think that bees also do that? Do they alert each other -- DANGER DANGER, kid with rock approaching!

Rupert Sheldrake wrote an interesting book about this, "Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals: An Investigation." This is the Amazon.com webpage that has comments from readers of the book, http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-That-Their-Ow...

-- Posted by FJGuy on Mon, Jun 7, 2010, at 2:07 PM

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Bunyan Tales
Paul Corbin
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Paul Corbin is a 100-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archaeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.
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