Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Coincidental Beekeeper

© 2009, 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

"He grabs hold, all the while telling me to hurry up before they manage to sting us and we die of anaphylactic shock."

Quite a few of the things I have gotten myself involved with are coincidental. For instance, I’m a coincidental beekeeper.

I was sitting at the village feed store one afternoon enjoying the local gossip, when in walks a rancher looking for bee killing stuff. “Bee killing stuff?” I wonder. Probably wants wasp or yellow jacket spray. But no, its bees, and by the sound of it they’re in hives. One of the fellows recommends gasoline and a match, while another comes up with motor oil and a sprayer. Its times like these that I wonder how we survive as a race.

Now, I’ve always had an interest in beekeeping. Such diligent laborers those little creatures are. Not that I’m very diligent, but I appreciate their hard work and perseverance. After listening to the eradication plans of my less sophisticated associates, (I think they had reached the point of mixing an explosive cocktail of diesel fuel, organo-phosates, and black powder.), I volunteered to get the bees.

The rancher tells me he doesn’t know how the bees got there in the first place. He was pretty sure that they had been in the same spot for a few years. So I get directions to the location.

I found the spot with little difficulty. An area of about thirty foot wide and ten foot deep had the look of purposeful neglect. Bay trees grew in random spots, and shoulder high weeds covered the rest. Investigating more closely, I found a half dozen hives of four or five boxes each, in various states of disrepair. One bottom box had rotted so badly that the whole hive listed a good 30 degrees to the left. There were two other hives and assorted other boxes in the surrounding brush, most of them unsalvageable.

I went back home and did a lot of reading. Which in and of itself was educational but did little in preparing me. Most of the information I gathered was related to production. There was some info on moving them from one location to another; not on the actual mechanics of the process, but rather the importance of proper relocation. It is true that there’s really nothing quite like hands on experience.

I figured that night time was the very best time to get them. They would all be home and cozy. Bees have to sleep, right? What could be simpler than gently picking up the hives and putting in the back of the Blazer, then taking them home while they slept.

Of course bees don’t really sleep. By the time I had figured out that a hive weighs in excess of 150 pounds or so when loaded with bees, wax and honey, the girls had crawled all over me and proceeded to sting me at every opportunity. By the eighth or ninth barb, I had decided to retreat and regroup.

If at first you don’t succeed, make a plan. So it was time to plan the operation. The next night I came better prepared.

First on the list was blocking the entrance; a properly cut one by two took care of that. Sweatshirt, light gloves, duct tape, mosquito netting with a hat, head lantern with a red filter, and two large Rubbermaid containers to hold the hive.

The plan was to remove the top box, lay it to one side, remove the next one, put it on top of the first, and so forth until I got to the bottom one which I would then put in the Rubbermaid box. Then the rest of the boxes would go back into the Rubbermaid in proper order.

That was the plan.

I arrived at the location an hour after sunset. I geared up and went right to work. What I hadn’t noticed the previous night, was that bees frequently gather at the front of the hive, sometimes in smaller clumps, other times in much larger, depending on the temperature. This was a warmer night, and there were plenty of them hanging around the outside of the box. A couple of misplaced hands, a thump or two, and they were angrily buzzing around.

By now I was running around in circles, arms flailing in every direction. A bee landed right on my forehead. I took a quick slap at it with my left hand. Of course I forgot that I was wearing my beautiful wedding band. Damn near ¾ of an ounce of tungsten carbide clocked me a good one right between the eyes. That staggered me. I don’t know what happened to the bee though.

My wife was watching from the safety of the Blazer. She rolls the window down and hollers at me: “Honey! Baby are you all right?” I’m thinking to myself “Yeah fine, I’m lovin’ all of this!” All I manage to get out, according to her, was “I’m going to die out here! AAAaaargh!” I run for the relative safety of the car.

I finally called the fine folks at Rossman Apiaries. After explaining my situation to the nice lady that answered, she recommended I use a smoker and maybe another person to help lift the boxes. OK point taken.

Now, its not that I’m cheap, but I am frugal. Money is always tight when you’re raising kids, and the price of everything keeps on going up. That smoker would cost me $28.00 of hard earned income. I, of course had a better idea. Back in the day I was quite the cigar aficionado. I still have a couple dozen boxes of cigars in a humidor I made out of a large tool chest. (That’s another story…) So I grabbed a couple of stogies and went forth to do battle one more time.

Firing up that cigar and — (Do us both a favor. Just go up a half-dozen paragraphs, where it starts with “I arrived at the location an hour after sunset.” And you get the idea of how this plan worked out. Save me the trouble of retyping it…)

I finally broke down and ordered the smoker.

When it arrived a couple of days later, I took it to the shop, loaded it up with cedar wood chips and lit that sucker. Finally! Voluminous clouds of cool white smoke! Now I was in business.

This time I brought Jordan Bear with me. We geared up in substantially the same gear as before. But this time we had “THE SMOKER.” We decided to move the smallest of all the hives which consisted of three boxes total. We lit the smoker with a micro torch and made darned sure that the thing was well lit and smoking vigorously. We approached the hives like two Roman gladiators sizing up a known and dangerous opponent. I started puffing that smoker like a steam locomotive. Clouds of smoke wafted over the hive. The bee’s wing vibration increased noticeably from a gentle hum to an angry buzz. I looked at Bear but couldn’t make out what he looked like behind the veil. (Sweating bullets I bet.) But as we watched, every bee on the outside marched into the hive. I gave The Bear a quick rundown on what we were going to do. I pulled out my cabinet maker’s pry-bar and positioned it between the first two boxes. I gave it a sharp rap with the palm of my hand to separate the two boxes from each other. All I managed to do was to shake the hive from side to side. I tried a couple of other corners with similar results.

I gave the hive a couple of more puffs of smoke. I sent my assistant back to the car for a tire iron. A short time later he was back. By this time I had darn near suffocated the bees with smoke. Anyway we placed the pry-bar back in place and gave it a couple of good whacks with the tire iron. It took a good eight or nine blows before the boxes parted. By now the bees were getting real noisy; a few were even flying around looking for something or someone to sting. I suppose that if someone was banging on your house you would be pretty aggravated too. I puffed that smoker some more.

I tried to lift the top box off but the frames from the lower box were stuck to the frames from the upper. (The bees build comb on the frames, and the frames are what hold the wax combs and honey.) By now bees are crawling all over the hive, my arms, chest, and plenty have taken flight. I can see exactly where this is heading. I put the box back down crushing a dozen bees, and give it a violent twist to break the adhesion between the two sets of frames. All I manage to do is spin the three boxes around. Did you know that crushed bees smell like silicon spray? And did you know that the smell of crushed bees incite the others to attack something? I tell The Bear to grab the bottom boxes and brace against the next twist. He grabs hold, all the while telling me to hurry up before they manage to sting us and we die of anaphylactic shock. I gave it another twist and thankfully separate the two.

We put it in the Rubbermaid box and cover it. I take the bottom two boxes and with Bear’s help put it in the second box. There are still a few dozen bees flying around, and I hope they all found a home in another hive; I wasn’t going to hang out anymore than was absolutely necessary. We each grab one end of the tote box and carry it to the car, load it up, and go for the other.

Finally, we are at the car and congratulate each other on a fine job. I pulled my gloves off, and then the cap and veil. J Bear was doing the same. Both of us tossed them in the back and I started the car.

What didn’t occur to either of us was that bees were crawling all over our shirts, hats, gloves, and everywhere else. Of course I had the car rolling down the shell road before it happened.

In hind sight, it was obvious that we started celebrating too soon.

The Bear, his appellation not withstanding, screams like a girl. I mean pitch, intonation, all of it, as teenage girl as it can get. All I know is that he screamed, I jerked the wheel, and we were barreling off road across a pasture at 40-50 miles per hour. Now, right about this point I feel the damned bees crawling on my neck. My right foot was trying to get to the brakes; both hands were trying to get the car under control. Each hummock of grass threw us against our safety belts or slammed us into the doors. Meanwhile the bees were busy sting the snot out of us.

At some point, I don’t know when, The Bear managed to tear the belt off, open the door, and before I could react, was bailing out the door. I suppose the car wasn’t really going that fast but it felt like forever before it stopped. The Bear already had his feet out and was off to the proverbial races. I wasn’t far behind.

About an hour later, we were back on the road again, none the worse for wear, if you don’t include the five or twelve stings we got.

Once we were home, we moved the totes under a tree that would remain shady until we could get the hive reassembled.

Assembling them wasn’t that bad, as the bees were obviously disoriented by the move and allowed us great latitude to do whatever we needed to do without to much grief. That and it was daylight which made it easier to figure out what we were doing.

Believe you me, we learned quite a bit from that experience. The following moves went much more smoothly. We collected a minimum of stings, and ended up with seven hives of bees.

We have collected about two hundred pounds of honey from our hives this fall.


As it so happens I was working the hives this weekend with these results:

That's right! Stung in each eyelid! That's what I got for not paying attention to the girls!

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member:Kandahar Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles