Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer of 2015 Final Tally: 7-Hives

Dale (father-n-law) moving supers
Hello beekeeping fans,

Well, it is now the end of summer and time to tally my efforts for the 2015 year.  No suspense, the answer is 7 hives.

So here is a summery of this years splits.  I started with 4 hives but one of those died shortly after the spring started.

Then I had 3-hives: so I split them into 6-hives but I didn't know what I was doing so only 1 made it.

Then I had 4-hives: so I split Dr. D's hive three times but one died.  So then I had 3 at the Old Farm and 3 at Dr.D's place.

Then I had 6-hives: so I bought 8 queens and split the hives into 14 total hives.  5 of those queens died right away (or swarmed) - leaving me with 6 at Dr. D's and 3 at the Old Farm.


Then the moths killed one of my original splits and one of my newly queened hives swarmed.  So that left me with 7-Hives for 2015.  Of course I still have a month or two to fortify these 7 but I am hopeful they will all survive the winter.

LESSON LEARNED:

I think the biggest set back this year was due to the bleached frames I put in the hive.  I did this on the advice of another beekeeper.  The actual advice was to bleach the frames then lightly coat them with new wax - however, I didn't have any wax to use so I just bleached and cleaned the frames.  The bees did not build on any of them.  This made the hives inhospitable and the bees just left.

Of course the other thing I have learned is how to properly identify brood.  My first splits failed because I simply didn't know what I was looking at.  I am confident that I did not put enough young larva in the splits and therefore the bees could not raise new queens.

Both of these issues will be resolved for next year.

THE HARVEST:

The original hive at Dr.D's place has 100lbs of honey in it - however, I accidentally put mite chemicals in the hive with the honey and that made it unsuitable for harvest.  I will distribute this honey between the hives at the end of September.  The Beast (at the old farm) had 100lbs but when the hive fell over, the honey was robbed.  All the other hives are barely filling two supers deep which they will need for the winter.

So my total harvest consisted of one single frame of honey I took from a hive at the Old Farm - barely a mason jar full.

CONCLUSION:

After a hard year of ups and downs, I have not become a beekeeping mogul just yet.  I have however doubled my hives.  I think next year will be a much more successful year.

PLAN FORWARD:

What is my big plan?  PALLETS and WILD BEES!  I will explain in much more detail later but I plan to recycle wooden pallets to build supers.  I then plan to lure feral bees in with lemon grass oil.  I already have a area to quarantine these hives until I can get them disease free.

At the same time, I will also split my existing 7-hives during the spring.  I think I will split The Beast into 6 even hives and requeen them with Italian queens.  I will split the other 2-hives at the Old Farm into 4 each (if they are strong enough).  I will leave my strongest hive at Dr. D's un split in case this all goes wrong but I will split the other 3-hives three times each (by removing 2 frames of brood and bees in March, April, and May.)  For a total of 24-hives.  With what I have learned this year, I think this is doable.

If I can pull this off in 2016 then in 2017 I should be able to divide my hives into a large enough number to turn a profit.  Only time will tell.

PERSONAL NOTES:

I did not get the USDA job.  My wife and I were devastated by the news.  So for now I am still unemployed.  My wife is a RN and is working extra days each month which has put us in the black by a little bit.  Of course I feel like crap letting her support me but it is what it is.  I find myself in a panic most days, trying to figure out how I am going to get back to my six-figure salary when all of the jobs around me are for about $9.50 an hour.  I hadn't realized how much I took my income for granted.

I used to scoff at the pro-ball players who would make millions and then find themselves bankrupt a couple of years later.  Now I feel I have done the same stupid thing.

However, today I feel calm.  I feel this way because God has blessed me so much.  Not only are we slightly in the black due to my wife's hard work but out of the blue we received a large (totally unexpected) escrow check from where we had been over paying the house note.  It is a miracle and soothes me.  This is the 3rd time in the past 5 years things have gotten tight but in both of the first cases, God sent me a windfall right at the last minute.  With this escrow check, I feel as if God is letting me know, the windfall is coming, just be patient.

I don't know what the future holds but I know God is with me and it will be okay.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Just Bathroom Humor

My wife and I had planned to harvest honey last week but the temperature here reached 103F with a Heat Index of nearly 115F.  That compounded with the fact that I was at the doctor's office or hospital all last week with either my mom (who has a torn rotator cup) or my father-n-law (who had a stent put in).  All in all, the honey is still safely tucked away in the hives.

However, I have a totally non-bee related story.

While my father-n-law was having surgery, I had an upset stomach.  I didn't want to use the bathroom in the waiting-room for fear someone might hear me.  At the age of 41 I am still shy about using the bathroom. (though obviously I don't mind talking about it after the fact)

So I searched the hospital and found a more remote public toilet.  As I entered it was obvious that I wasn't the only one in there.  The smell was putrid to say the least.  Nonetheless, I figured that given the current smell, at worst, I would just blend in.  So I entered the other stall and dropped-trou.

From the capped-toed oxfords in the stall next to me, I could tell he was a much older man.  Which made sense, because it must have taken decades to brew the smell he was making.

Normally in this sort of situation, I practice delicate sphincter control to prevent any rude noises.  However, this stench was unique and I really didn't want to spend any more time than I had to.  So I bared down and, in doing so, let out a fairly audible fart.  If it had a smell, it wasn't strong enough to alter the paleolithic stench that was emanating from beneath the dividing wall.  Just the same, I paused and grimaced at the sound.

That's when he said it, "Mmmmmm... Giving it away."

I cringed.  Did I mention I'm a bit shy when it comes to bathroom issues?  Not to mention, this was not the best place to strike up a conversation.  So I stayed quiet - hoping maybe he would take the hint.

In a rush to finish my business, I again made an audible sound.

"Mmmmm." I heard from the stall next to me.

Are you f***ing kidding me? I thought.

Then he said, "So you take a right on Third?"

???

"That will get you back to the Casino."

Yep... It sounds like an old joke but he was on his phone the whole time.  Can we please start public shaming people who talk on their phones in the bathroom?  At best it's rude to the person on the other end.  At worst you make the person in the stall next to you feel like he is being ambushed when he is at his most vulnerable.

Well anyway... This week it is raining so I won't be doing much beekeeping this week either.  However, the weather is cooling off and if all goes well, we will go out this weekend and gather about 10-gallons of honey.  Not bad for a hobby.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Another one bites the dust

I'll keep today's post fairly short.  For starters, this past Friday I visited the apiary.  I was shocked to find that the very hive I found the queen in last week was completely empty 7 days later... Damn the luck.  I am now down to 7 hives.

Also, since the bees have not built any wax on the frames I had bleached, I decided to place uncleaned frames in the hive and see what happens.  I did this by marking the frames with a "G" like in the picture here.  I then placed them in the hive with one bleached frame between each.  I did this to see if they build on the unclean frames and still avoid the bleached ones.

Lastly, in years to come when I am a successful beekeeper, i will look back on these early days and remember just how far I have come.  I want to remember that it wasn't easy and that the bees were not my only hurdle.

That said: I still have not finished cleaning the 400 frames I have in my trailer.  It has been over a month.  The truth is, I just feel so... I don't think it's depression but something like that.  I am still waiting to hear back about the USDA job.  I really want this job.  It is good pay, interesting work, and it would be here in the Delta.  Though it is hard to tell who wants me to get the job more; me or my wife.  I am very qualified for the job but it was open to the the whole country and so I don't know what the talent pool looks like or what my chances are.

The whole thing keeps me in a constant state of anxiety.  Even now, my palms are sweating and I have a headache.  If I don't get this job, I don't know what I will do next.  My wife has been working a lot of extra days at the hospital and so we are financially okay for now.  I am so proud of her but I feel equally awful putting such a burden on her.  She really is a God sent blessing.  We both pray constantly for this job.  I want to be optimistic but no one knows God's plans.

Tomorrow, I plan to muster all of my will power and finish cleaning (without bleach) those 400 frames.  My wife and I are also planning to go and collect honey from The Beast on Friday.  For that I need my trailer.

I have another blog called, 5 Things I Am Thankful For.  I started keeping it back when offshore work began to get rocky 18 months ago.  I don't write in it very much but I wanted to post the 5 things here today... it always makes me feel better and it is a good way to openly thank God for all he does for me.

1. My wife has made so much overtime that we are actually in the black.  Even in these hard times, our cup runs over.
2. My wife... just that... she is the greatest mate I could ever imagine.
3. My dog... Mabel is often on my 5 things list but it is because her kind face and loving nature always helps to brighten even the darkest of days.
4. Both my kids are in college (well my youngest starts this month) but I am thankful that they BOTH have academic scholarships.  This eases our burden (we used to pay $5000 per kid for private school) and I am so proud that they are so smart.
5. Had I never gotten laid off, I would have never considered looking for a job on land.  God is always so active my life that I have to believe that even when things look bad, they are for a good reason.  I don't know for sure I will get this USDA job but I feel like I will.  God is always kind to me.  Over the past 4 years I have been off work two other times.  Each time, when it was over and it had all worked out just fine, I always looked back and would say to myself, "I wish I could have just relaxed and let God deal with it."  So I am thankful that God has a proven track record in my life and that even though I have problems with my faith, God still takes care of me.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

God, Family, and Bees

My oldest and dearest friend, Chip Burnside (who is also my cousin) came for a visit.  So of course I
took him to my apiary.  He had a great time and took lots of pictures.  However, that is not what this blog is about today.

Today I want to talk about God and prayer.  I have a hard time imagining a beekeeper who is an atheist.  However, I suppose for the same reason a Christian looks at the wonders of bees and sees the divine - the atheist sees evolution.  Nonetheless, I am a man of faith - a foul-mouthed, perverted, angry, often self-serving sinner - but a man of faith just the same.

My cousin, Chip (I refer to him in that way so much, I think his proper name should be My-Cousin-Chip).  Anyway, Chip is a devout Christian of amazing faith - he's delightfully flawed but I know he is close to God.  I feel that he is more loved by God than me - though as I write this, I can see the error of that sort of thinking.  Just the same, I rely on Chip for spiritual guidance (even if I don't always agree with him).

This brings me to the point.  I have applied for a job with the USDA office.  I am perfectly qualified for it and the opening is right here in my own community.  The pay is very good and I would be home every night (unlike my offshore job).  So I have been praying for this job.  Praying constantly - since there is no job I have ever wanted more.  My family (especially my wife) are praying for this too.  I should know the full outcome in the next 41 days.

I of course asked Chip to pray with me about the job -- and of course he did.  But he prayed, "God, if this is your will, then let it be done."  My father-n-law echoes this same prayer each night at supper.  They both believe we should not pray for what we want but only for God's will.

Before I go any further, I know that God knows what is best for me.  I know that his will is better for me than mine.  I truly believe in Romans 8:28

King James Bible
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.


However with that said, I question this notion that we should pray for "God's will".  To pray for God's will is like praying for the sun to rise.  Only God's will is ever done!  I believe that God is in control of everything (though I don't believe he controls everything - some things he allows to happen without causing them)... but his will cannot be overcome.  So to pray that God does whatever he wants is like praying that the sun will rise... pray -- don't pray... it will still be done.

My point is this, Mark 11:24 says "...whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."  The same is echoed in Matthew 21:22, 1 John 3:22, and many others.

Luke 22:42 Jesus prays "Take this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."  In this verse, Jesus asks that God change his will but agrees to be okay with his will no matter the outcome.

God's "will" is always accomplished - so I do pray that I will be okay with whatever his will is.  However, I also pray that he will give me this job and make it a blessing to me and my family.

I'm not a preacher, and I am sure that there are people that will both agree with me and others that will think I am a moron (if not a heretic).  I think I am writing this blog today, as a way to walk through my feelings on the subject.

I have prayed and I am confident that my prayers will be answered.

BTW:

The moth infested hive has died.  I am now down to 8 hives.  One of my other splits has hive beetles. And the three hives that contain my new Italians are doing well if not still a bit slow.  I also found the queen in one of my hives.  It is the first time I have found one all year (I normally look for brood rather than disturbing the hive for a long period of searching).  I'm glad I got to share that with Chip.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Supersedure - Queen Cell


Very little knowledge is ever gained through success - it is through failure that we truly learn.  

I'm sure I am not the first one to say that but nonetheless, it's absolutely true.  So it is with beekeeping.  As Andrew Davis said in, The Wonders of Beekeeping, "Bees survive, not because of the beekeepers but in spite of them." - (I paraphrased).

In my last blog I told how my bees were failing to thrive.  Well it seems that I am not the only one who noticed - the bees themselves seem to be taking steps to fix the problem.  Here's how I find out:

In the picture below that I took the other day, you can see there is a queen cell (mine is the picture on the left).  So my question was, "Why do I have a queen cell in a hive with a laying queen that is not crowded?"


Up until now I only thought there were two reasons to find queen cells; either the queen was missing or the hive was too crowded and the bees were about to swarm.  I had completely overlooked the idea of Supersedure.  However in a brilliant European article from www.cymru.gov.uk I found that each queen cell actually has different characteristics.

It is at times like this that I am in awe of bees.  It seems that nothing they do is accidental.

By comparing the characteristics of the queen cell in my hive to the ones on the article, I found that the bees are actually preparing to supersede the existing queen - not preparing to swarm as I originally thought might be the case.  How great is that?  Hopefully this will strengthen my hives and get them ready for winter.

On a more personal note:

I'm still unemployed for now.  I applied for my first unemployment check today.  I tried sooner but there was some bullshit about the fact that I made more than double my salary in the 4th quarter of last year than I did in the 3rd quarter... and they don't take the quarter you are in (2nd quarter of this year) into account... OR the quarter before that until you are in the Next quarter (3rd quarter of this year)... It's all a f***ing shell game.  

Well now I should be approved but you just know they are going to find some other way of f***ing me out of the poultry $247 a week they are offering.  Yep, I make six figures but the max unemployment benefits are less than $1,000 per month.  It is failed Socialism at its finest but I won't go into my rant about that now.

Luckily - or more by God's grace - my wife (the RN) has been picking up some extra shifts and keeping us in the black.  I am so thankful for her.  I feel really guilty that she is supporting us right now - PROUD - but guilty.  On the days she works I make sure to get out of bed with her.  I do the laundry and make the bed and cook supper.  I also try to get some beekeeping done and do a little writing - as well as looking for jobs on the internet.  After supper I wash the dishes and then rub her feet before bed.

I wish I could say I'm always Super Husband but when I am working I don't help nearly as much - though I still try to share the load around the house.  That's not true - I don't share the load.  My wife is awesome.  On the days she works I cook but that's about it.  On the days she's off, she washes clothes and does most of the cooking.  When I get back to work, I'll try to continue to do my share of the housework.

This started off sounding like I was a great husband... now I feel like I need to kiss my wife's ass a little more when she gets home tonight.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Failure to Thrive


Failure to Thrive is a medical term to describe children who are not gaining weight as expected and have poor height growth.  However, today is seems like a good description of my beehives.


Today I visited my hives at Dr. D's place - I have been avoiding my 3 hives at the old farm since two of them are filled with hateful bees.

Of the hives at Dr. D's place, only 6 are still alive after all of my splits earlier this year.  Below is a picture of that bee yard taken 5 weeks ago but shows the location of all my hives at Dr. D's:

The hives marked with an X are the ones that are now completely empty.  The rest are as follows:

Hive A: This is the first split I made this year.  I have 3 supers on this hive now - each has 3 frames of bees in them and is doing well.  I am feeding them sugar water and they had eaten about 40% of it in the past 20 days.

Hive C: This is the hive that had the moth infestation.  As of today, there are only three frames of bees in it.  This has not changed in the past 3 weeks (since I first found the moths).  I did find some Wax Moth Larva in the sugar water and I tried to remove them all.

Hive D: This is one of my original hives.  The bees in this hive are slightly aggressive but not nearly as bad as the ones in The Beast back at the old farm.  As of now, I have 4 supers on this hive: 2 are filled with brood and one of them is filled with honey already.

Hive F: This new Italian hive has a lot of wax but no brood.  The new Italian queen seems to be gone.  I removed one frame of brood from Hive G that had a queen cell on it and placed it in Hive F.  These bees had eaten half of the sugar water in their feeder trough.

Hive G: This new Italian hive only had 2 frames of brood and one of them had the queen cell on it.  I am confused by this since it is a new queen and there is brood - so why was there a queen cell?  These bees too had eaten half of the sugar water in their feeder trough.

Hive K: This new Italian hive had 3.5 frames of brood and bees with two additional frames of dark brown wax.  They too had eaten half of their sugar water.

As you can see Hive C, F, G, and K simply are failing to thrive.  Monday I will add brood from Hive D to Hives C, F, and K.  I will also move young brood from Hive K to Hive G.

The local crop for these hives is Soybean.  Soybean produces nectar and pollen from July 1 - August 31 in this area.  So I am hoping that my hives will be able to take advantage of this and increase in size.

BTW:  Today it was 91 degrees without a breeze - the heat index was 100 degrees.  I sweated so much that I could see my tattoos through my drenched white shirt.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

No Bees - No Pumpkins

When people find out that I keep bees, their first question is always, "Well how did you get into that?"


Pumpkin Flower
The answer to that is unique and goes back to the movie, A Walk In The Clouds.  If you've seen it, then you are probably thinking that there weren't any bees in that movie.  You are right.  However, I love this movie if for no other reason than the beautiful vineyards.  Napa Valley is one of the most beautiful places on God's green earth.  It is no surprise that I later fell in love with my wife while on a balloon ride in Napa Valley.

I still have a love for vineyards.  So about 14 years ago I began studying up on viniculture.  Since I live in Mississippi, the most appropriate vine to grow would be the native Muscadine.  Through my studies I found that on just 5 acres of land, one person could grow enough muscadines to make 10,000 bottles of wine.

So I began to make plans to grow a small muscadine vineyard in Mississippi.  However, I continued my research first.

It takes 3 years for a vine to mature to the point where it can produce a full harvest of grapes.  In that time I thought it might be a good idea to grow something in the vacant rows... something like watermelons.

So I began to research watermelons.  In that research I found that watermelons are grown from spring to early summer.  That leaves the latter part of the growing season for another crop... something like Pumpkins.

So now my plan was to grow a muscadine vineyard, plant watermelons for the first three years in the empty rows and plant pumpkins later in those years.  It seemed like a good plan.

So I began to research pumpkins... and that's when it happened.  In my research, I found that pumpkins do not self-pollenate but require bees for a healthy crop. 

So naturally I began to research bees (As you can see I am a big planner).  It only took one or two books for me to decide that the best agricultural invest I could make was to scrap all of my other plans and invest in bees.  So that is what I did.  Granted, so far it hasn't paid off but that is my fault - and I plan to rectify the situation.

So there you have it.  I became a beekeeper because Keanu Reeves fell in love with a pregnant chick in a vineyard.

On a more personal and present note: I am still laid-off.  The oil field is in a steep down-turn.  I am scheduled to return to my job in October but there is no guaranty that will come through.  The stress of it all is exhausting.  

However in a positive turn of events, while searching online, I came across an awesome job opening with the USDA as a Safety Manager only 16 miles from my home.  It would be a dream job.  The really peculiar thing was that I found this amazing job (that I am perfect for) by mere happenstance and it was only open for applications/resume for 8 hours.  The fact that I found the job and applied for it in such a small window, seems like divine intervention.

The pay is very good (for the Delta), I would be home every night (unlike offshore), and I would be working in an agricultural research center.  The truth is that even though I am very qualified for the position, it all just seems too good to be true.  Yet no matter how hard I try to tell myself not to get excited or too hopeful, in my heart I want this job with all of my being.  I'll let you know how it works out.  If you are reading this, say a prayer for me.

p.s.  In the Labels of all my blogs, I use the label: NAKED.  There is nothing in my blogs about nudity but I need the traffic and perverts sometimes keep bees. :)

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Nope Snake

Nope! Nope! Nope!
A few weeks ago I went to the farm where we first started our apiary and collected all of my old hives.

The mason blocks I originally used had, for the most part, turned to rubble.  This left many of the hives laying in the mud, accelerating their deterioration.
 
However some of the hives seemed to be frozen in time like the remnants of an ancient civilization.  And like the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, what caused the exodus of my bees can only be speculated about.

With each hive I gathered, my spirit fell a little lower as I began to fully realize how many of my original 100 supers had been lost to rot.  Even now, I feel a little sad at the thought.

As I gathered box after box, my thoughts jumped from the cost of repairs to the hours it would take to  rebuild the supers.  Yet, my thoughts were instantly brought into the moment when I lifted the lid of one of my hives only to find a big ass Nope Snake -- to be honest, I may have peed a little.

I immediately jumped back, keeping the lid between myself and what was obviously an Anaconda!  Now I don't have a phobia of snakes.  I just really hate them.  It's not that I am scared of them, it is simply the fact that I have the reflex time of a sloth in oatmeal.  If a snake were to feel inclined to bite me, my only quick muscle reaction would be in the form of my bowel movement.

My wife was driving the truck along the route as I loaded the trailer with the old supers but I decided not to alarm her until all of the work was done -- no need to worry her.  I took a few pictures from a  distance and then gathered the rest of the hives.  

When I had gathered all of the other equipment, I went back to deal with the snake.  That was when I figured out that the only thing worse than finding a snake in your hive is not being able to find it a few minutes later!  I didn't spend much time looking for him.  No... that is not correct... I didn't spend much time looking for him around that hive.  I did however, fervently search for the Nope Snake all the way back to my truck!  The hive is still out there -- I mean what's one super worth anyway?

Nonetheless, the Nope Snake is not the only horror in the attached photo.  If you will look between the tan box and the white box, you will notice a sprig of poison ivy.  The two weeks that followed this picture I was covered up to my elbows and knees with raspberry colored whelps that itched like fiberglass and alcohol soup.

I love beekeeping but I'm not sure how much more nature I can handle!

p.s.  I looked it up and the Nope Snake is technically called a Speckled Kingsnake.  While I don't have an unhealthy fear of snakes, I must say that just looking at the Google photos of Mississippi snakes gave me a shimmy!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cleaning a Mountain of Frames - Procrastination tips

Hundreds of old frames
"Procrastination is like masturbation; it's good in the beginning but in the end you realize you have only screwed yourself" - Anonymous

My mother says that when I was a kid I would roll around on the floor and stand on my head to keep from doing homework.  I suppose some things never change.

In the picture on the left you can see over 500 plastic frames that I need to clean.  I've been plucking away at for about a week but it is such a daunting task!  Each frame has to be scraped, scrubbed, soaked in a drum of bleach water, hosed off, and then staked to dry.  It takes about 2 to 4 minutes per frame.
Dale
 (father-n-law & close friend)

The worst part is that my Father-n-law lives next door.  He is the salt of the earth and I love him to death but I know he is thinking, "Damn my daughter married a lazy bastard."  I am slowly getting them done but the misquotes chew on my ass the whole time and I stay soaking wet for the whole job.  I peck away at it 4 hours at a time but I still have a mountain of frames left to clean.

I know i need to get them done but I have found a dozen things to do instead: fix the washing machine's water pump, do laundry, write blogs, wash the dog, cook supper, grocery shop, clean house, etc... See how I made it look like I was doing noble things... FINE!  So also watched about 20 hours of TV this week... you happy now?!

Anyway, I looked up procrastination online and was directed to Psychology Today.  Here is what they suggest.

Dr. Ferrari recommends these strategies for reducing procrastination:

1. Make a list of everything you have to do.

2. Write a statement of intention.

3. Set realistic goals.

4. Break it down into specific tasks.

5. Make your task meaningful.

6. Promise yourself a reward.

7. Eliminate tasks you never plan to do. Be honest!

8. Estimate the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task. Then increase the amount by 100%.

I really like Number 8.  I always get frustrated when things take longer than I have estimated.  That being said, I suspect I will be finish cleaning these frames in about 30 continuous hours.  I'll let you know when I finish.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Keeping A Beekeeping Journal

Keeping a Beekeeping Journal is a great way to monitor your progress but it is also a great way to record your beekeeping journey.

NC State Beekeepers Association suggest that you log the following items.

1. How much you feed your hives.
2. Hive brood pattern and how the queen is laying.
3. Treatment plan and alternatives.
4. Honey production.
5. Bloom Times.
6 Pollination Chart.
7. Repair of the hives.
8. Strong or weak hives.
9.  When you put your supers on and take them off.
10. Might count.

As for me, I think any journal should have a format and a narrative.  Of course, just like anything, there is a little evolution of necessity that happens.   At first I started with the page you see at the top of this Blog.  I use Avery Labels and print out my pictures - a picture is worth a thousand words after all.  I always start with the date, then a narrative, then I like to say how many stings I got that day, then I add a diagram of my hives layout.

Since the first entry I have added in weather and a personal note.  The personal note is a reminder.  Some days I feel very defeated and I think, "How is this ever going to work?"  Other days, I feel more positive and think, "It's going to take time but I can do it."  Sometimes the note is even better:
6/22/2015
Personal note:  My heart was broke and I felt crushed.  However, Jen (my wife) reminded me that even though I have had failures, we have still tripled our hives this year so far.  She is my rock.

In years to come, I will look back at this early entry and remember that God blessed me with a wonderful wife, even back then.  My point is, use your journal and make it not just a tool for improvement but as a reminder of where you started and how things have changed.


References:

http://hcbees.org/keeping-a-bee-journal

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Breath of Death - oh how my bees hate CO2

Found on iwastesomuchtime.com
My mother had a stroke about ten years ago.  She has recovered but the stoke left the left-side of her body paralyzed.  After a few months of therapy, she was able to walk short distances and is able to live alone - though my brother lives across the street from her and I live just a few doors down.  

The point is that she enjoys going with me to my bee yard.  She sits in the truck (wearing a veil - just in case) and watches me as I work my bees.  Truth is, she just likes getting out of the house.

Half the time I drive right up to the hives but only when I need to carry in large amounts of equipment.  The rest of the time I park near the land owner's house and just walk in to keep from harming his grass.

Yesterday was one of those days.  I left mom sitting in the truck with the windows down and a cooling cloth (it's like a shammy and when you wet it, it stays cool.)  Then I went out to check the bees.

After about 25 minutes I heard my mother shouting.  My hives are about 150 yards away from the house, so I couldn't make out what she was saying but she sounded like she was in distress.  I dropped everything and began to run through the woods towards her.

While in the days of old, I was quite the athlete, these days I am fat and out of shape and resemble a water buffalo with a bruised testicle when I run.  Nonetheless, I ran with all my might until I was in eye sight of mom.  However, by this time she was waving her hands for me to stop.  When I was close enough to hear her, I asked what the hell she was shouting about.

She said, "You were gone for a while and I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I have a phone!  Why didn't you just call me?"

She replied, "I didn't want to bother you."  

Believe it or not, she had those same reasoning skills even before the stroke.

Well, I was on my last hive so I went back into the woods and continued my inspection.  I gave the bees a puff of smoke and then began closely checking how many frames of brood they had produced - not realizing I was still panting like an asthmatic porn star.  That was when it happened.  The bees, who until now had been politely milling around the hive, instantly and in complete unison, looked up at me and began furiously fanning their wings.  I swear I heard one of them tell the others, "Lock the door!"  However, since this hive is one of my new Italian Hives, a single puff of smoke neutralized their aggression and they went right back to milling around.

Had this happened in my bad hive, known as The Beast, the bees would have tried to kill me.  Did you get that last sentence, "The bees would have tried to kill me."  That brings me to my point, while good bees are an absolute joy to work with, an aggressive hive like The Beast is actually filled with bees that want to kill me.

That thought crossed my mind yesterday and for the first time, I realized that working with The Beast is actually a life and death event.  Some day soon, I am going to have to face The Beast and either the queen will be killed or I will.  I know it is not quite that dramatic but then again maybe it really is.  I normally get 50+ stings when I just inspect the hive.  If I do not properly suit up, then that number could go high enough to kill me.  My friend Marvin told me once that 200 sings is equivalent to a rattle snake bite - I'm not sure how he knows that.  Just the same, it does put the task in a rather harsh light.

In the audio book, The Wonder of Beekeeping: National Trust Beekeeping, Written by Andrew Davis and narrated by the coolest sounding scotsman, Alex Norton; Davis says, "Don't make excuses for bad bees."  I think this is good advice.  The only question is how do you get rid of a bad queen when the hive is so aggressive?

Well anyway, that is all for today.  I still have a few hundred plastic frames to clean, so I had better go find something to procrastinate on to avoid having to deal with that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bees Can't Swim - Feeding My Bees.


"Great is our terror of the unknown" - Titus Livius.

The day after I found wax moths in one of my hives I placed cedar chips across the hive entrance of all of my hives.  I also sprinkled a little on the top bar of the infected hive.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  However, I woke up the following morning at 4:00am in a complete panic.  Had I just put cedar chips in my hives and made it unsuitable for bees?  I was sick to my stomach at the thought.  I quickly went online and searched the topic only to find equal parts of positive and negative comments - with no conclusive reports.  As soon as the sun was out I rushed to the bee yard and found that the bees were fine.  In fact they had pushed all of the wood chips off the landing and onto the ground.  That was a week ago.


Yesterday, I inspected my hives and I am glad to say, "The moth problem has been solved" - "For now anyway."  The hive that has been infested with moths had absolutely no signs of the home wreckers.  The hive still only has three frames of bees but they seemed healthy.  However, my hives had not grown as quickly as I had expected.  So it's time to feed them.

The US Department of Agriculture's June 19, 2015 Report states:

MISSISSIPPI: Beekeepers are reporting that the bees are in pretty good condition and have produced some honey, though not as much as needed for demand. Privet hedge honey volume was fair and the Popcorn flow has started along with the clover and wildflowers just before the Tallow comes in. Rain has been the main factor for less volume of honey so far this year and supplies appear to be tight again. 

So it seems that my hives are not the only ones seeing slow growth.  For that reason, I began feeding my bees sugar water last week.  From what I read it is always best to allow the bees to gather nectar naturally and I agree.  Yet, with all the rain, is seems the bees just aren't gathering enough food.

My hives are surrounded by woods, wetlands, and soybean fields.  I visited MSU Cares' website and found a great list of pollen and nectar sources and when they bloom.  On that site I found that Soybeans will begin producing a large amount of nectar and pollen from July 1 - August 31.  So I am hoping that the sugar water I feed them now will help boost their numbers for the upcoming months to nectar flow.
Dead Bees in Feeder

Now here is where I can lay some knowledge on you.  When I first started beekeeping I bought Pro Feeders from Mann Lake LTD.  Back then the feeder was just an open trough that was designed perfectly as a bee death trap.  Of course, no one told me,  BEES CAN'T SWIM!!!


The picture on the right was taken yesterday.  It seems I forgot to place lifeboats in the feeder and so nearly 100 bees drown this week.  The best thing I have found to prevent this is plastic spoons.  No, I'm serious.  I place plastic spoons in the feeder and the bees use them as lifeboats.  Packing Peanuts work too but they can easily get blown all over your bee yard if you are not careful.

FYI: 

Another feeder option is to use Mason Jars.  There are two ways you can use the jar:

One is to build or buy a feeder attachment that slips in the front entrance of the hive.  This is probably the best option for feeding but you have the added expense of the attachment.  That is fine if you are a hobbies but for large scale operations, it might be lest desirable.

The other option for using the Mason jar is to simply cut a hole in the outer cover of your hive to accommodate the lid of the Jar and then poke a hole in the jar lid and invert it into the the hole.  This works great but leaves a hole in your lid.  My friend Marvin uses this method but for some reason, I don't like the idea of cutting a hole in my lids.  That being said, this is probably the best option.

However, for now I already own 50 Pro Feeders and so I will continue to use them until I need more. At that time I will reconsider my options.



References:

http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/fvmhoney.pdf

https://blogs.msucares.com/honeybees/files/2014/06/HONEY-PLANT-CHART.pdf

Monday, June 29, 2015

Wax Moths and Heart Break

I have often wondered why it is so important to inspect hives on a weekly basis.  Once the hives have been treated for mites, treated for hive beetles, and supers have been added, what's left?  The answer, "WAX MOTHS!"

Wax Moth Damage
I like the quote by Gillard who said, "Wax moths keep us from becoming lazy."  Well, I got lazy this month and my bees paid the price.  A month earlier I had expanded my hives from 6 to 14 by buying 8 new Italian Queens (only 3 survived).  The next day I left town for 2 weeks then returned home and became very sick for nearly another two weeks.  By the time I got back to my hives, the carnage was sicking.

In the photo on the right you can see the silky destruction the wax moth worms left behind.  Even now, I feel sick just looking at the photo.  Without much knowledge about Wax Moths I started by killing them by hand.  In the words of Anakin Skywalker, "I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM! "  I'm not kidding.  I took such joy in squashing those little bastards - they make a pop and squirt sort of sound.

Next I took all of the infected frames out of the hive and replaced them with newly cleaned frames (Later I'll talk all about how I have been cleaning over 500 old frames).  10 frames in all were destroyed by the moths but there were still about 3 or 4 frames of bees and brood that seemed to be making a last stand in the corner of the hive.  Over the next couple of days, I inspected the hive and fed the bees sugar water to help build them back up.  I also added cedar chips to the landing to reduce the hive opening and sprinkled a few on the top bar of the box (not sure if this is a good idea or a really bad one).

RESEARCH:

I went home and began researching wax moths.  It seems there is really no chemical to treat them other than Paradichlorobenzene (PDB) - which is sort of like moth balls (but don't use actual moth balls - they have other chemicals in them that aren't safe for bees).  The best defense (as with all bee problems) is a strong healthy hive.  Well that is great advice but it doesn't help much when you are starting a 3 frame nuke.  So what else can be done?

For starters: Think small bee numbers - small hive.  By this I mean, if you only have 3 or 4 frames of bees, then stick with one hive body (or one box).  The bees will have less real estate to protect.  However, this goes against the advice my friend Marvin gave me.  He told me to put 3 boxes on every hive no matter the size, so that the bees would have room to grow.  For now I have followed his advice but today marks a week and I will reevaluate the situation today.

Now if you have wax moths, you need to treat them:
First, do what I did and remove the infected frames.
Second, Kill the eggs and larva.  To do this you have 6 options:
1. Freeze the frames for 4.5 hours at 20F degrees.  Then let them thaw out and they are good as new.
2. Heat the frames for for 80 minutes at 115F degrees.  But remember that wax will begin to melt at 148F degrees so don't get them too hot.
3. Carbon Dioxide treatment.  This one seems too dangerous and complicated for a small operation but you can read more about it at: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/publications/wax_moth_ipm.html
4. This is my favorite: if you have a fire ant bed near by, place the super filled with wax moth on the ant bed.  The ants will clean it up for you.
5. Paradichlorobezene (PDB) is the active ingredient in moth balls.  I am not a fan of chemicals and will try the first 4 methods first.  Nonetheless this is an option.
6. Lastly, and only if all else has failed, burn the infected equipment.  I don't like this idea at all and I can't imagine ever doing it.

Today makes a week since I first found the problem.  I had planed to visit the bee yard tomorrow but since it is supposed to rain the rest of the week, I will be going out today.  If you have any advice on a better way to deal with the moths or you have had any personal experience, please feel free to leave a comment.


References:

Gillard, G. 2009. My Friend, the Wax Moth. Amer. Bee J. Vol. 149 no. 6, pp 559-562.

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/publications/wax_moth_ipm.html

http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/Resources/WaxMoth.asp

Disclaimer:  To anyone reading this blog, I am learning just like you.  Use my blog at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Beast - A story of a angry hive

Okay, I want to fill you in so far on my dealings with The Beast.  The Beast is what I call my most aggressive hive.  In truth, I would not be surprised to find out that the hive contains Africanized Bees but it most likely contains an aggressive Caucasian verity found in Southern Mississippi.

At first I attributed the 30-50 stings per visit to the fact I had been rough with The Beast.  As I pointed out in a previous blog, I dropped it.  I also had to work roughly with it last year to loosen the propolis.  Then I thought that it may have been caused by using cedar chips in my smoker.  So I switched to pine.  Then I stored some (Unscented) dryer sheets with my with my pine chips - Dryer sheets are a non-pesticide method of dealing with Hive Beatles.  So I bought new chips.

No matter what I do, these bees sting me 30-50 times if I try to go any where near the brood chambers.  Oddly enough, they don't seem to mind if I take the honey suppers, as long as I don't go any further.

I have gotten fairly creative with my dealings with the hive thus far.  For starters, I normally like to work my bees in just a long sleeve shirt, hat and veil.  However, the bees sting me right through my shirt and jeans.  So I bought a full suit with zip on veil.  The bees didn't care and stung me right through that as well.

Next I came up with a really good idea.  I made a vest out of rope and zip-ties and put it on my under my suit.  This pulled the fabric up off of my body.  It worked great but the bees still stung my thighs and ankles.


 The vest did a great job of not only protecting me from the stings but also seemed to keep me much cooler.  Of course the second time I wore the vest, I wore a long-sleeve t-shirt under it for protection of my upper arms and that proved to be pretty hot.
The black spots are stingers I received in
only about 5 minutes.

I plan to make a pair of matching pants.  The rope cost about $6 and the zip-ties were about $1.  So it wasn't a very expensive fix.





Nonetheless, I have only managed to reduce the amount of stings but not prevent them altogether.

Next I had the bright idea to use a spray bottle filled with sugar water.  I thought that since it worked so well to keep the bees from flying when I first installed them, then it might work to keep the subdued until I could finish working the hive.

I mixed a spray bottle with 1/2 water and 1/2 sugar.  Then I began spraying the bees.  At first it seemed to work great.  As bees began to swarm I began to shoot them out of the air with a sugary mist.  I even sprayed the ones that landed on my suit.  However, the more I sprayed the more they swarmed.  And the more I sprayed the more coated I became with sugar water.

Before I knew it I was coated in sticky stinging bees.  My glasses were glazed over like a doughnut so I couldn't see anything.  It was a nightmare.  My only course of action was to run to the truck and leave the hive laying open.

I came back the next day, employing my wife as the getaway driver.  I suited up: rubber boots, jeans, long sleeve shirt, long gloves, TWO veils, and my suit.  I still got stung about 5 times and you can see from the picture above just how many stinger went into my suit.

I quickly put the hive back together and then dove into the trailer as my wife speed me off down the gravel road while I was being pursued by a legion of angry bees - still angry from the day before!  I nearly fell off the trailer twice while I swatted the bees away.  A mile down the road we stopped.  I sprayed off with some Raid and we drove on for another half mile.  Finally I was free of them and we went home.  That was three weeks ago.

I have given it a lot of thought and the hive has to be re-queened.  I am simply going to have to bundle up and get her out.  I'll let you know what happens.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Repairing Rotted Supers

On first inspection of my ruined apiary, I counted about 100 supers.  However,  I soon found out that the decade of neglect, water damage, and mice had destroyed nearly all them to one degree or another.  My friend Marvin reassured me that things were not nearly as grim as they seemed and encouraged me to try and replace only the bad spots in each box.

His advice proved golden as I have so far salvaged 63 of the supers for about $1 each in materials.  Here is how I did it.

Lets start with what they looked like:
Beyond repair
Medium Damage
Light Damage


Roaches


A quick note on the roaches... DEAR GOD THERE WERE  A LOT OF ROACHES!!!  I'm not squeamish by any means.  I didn't mind the plethora of spiders or legion of sugar ants or even the gaggle of slimy slugs... but there is something so unsettling about roaches.  They crawled in my shirt and up my neck.  Eventually I could feel them even when they weren't there anymore.  It felt like that scene from Creep Show where the roaches start coming out of the guy's mouth.  Please hold while I shimmy......





Anyway, as you can see, the boxes were in rough shape.  Rather than just cutting out a 4"x4" square here or 8"x2" strip there, I instead cut 3 1/2" from one end to the other where ever the box needed repair.  This gave me a good solid foundation to nail to and didn't weaken the sides of my supers.  Like this:


  
The A005 is my 1st attempt at labeling hives for my records.
I think marking the lids will prove to be a better system.
In some cases this had to be done on all 4 sides since many of the boxes had been sitting directly on the ground for years.  In the cases where more than half the box was rotted or where an entire side was rotted, I placed the box in a different pile to be re-evaluted in a few days.

After cutting out the rotted spots, I used Elmer's Wood glue and 1 1/4" finishing nails to reassemble the boxes.  I didn't use any fancy joints (finger joints or dovetail or the like).  I simply cut out the bad spots, added new boards, and then glued and toenailed them into place.  Some boxes only needed a single board while others received as many as six.  I paid $2.70 for 1x4x8' yellow pine and was able to get 5 to 7 boards from each (depending on whether it was the long side or the short side.)



As you can see, I rushed the new boxes into the field without painting them first.  This was not by choice and will need to be rectified as soon as possible.  What happened was I ordered 8 new queens from Bordelon Apiaries in Gary, La.  Super nice people that managed to fit me in but then sent the bees to me 3 days early.  Since I was offshore when I ordered them and didn't get home until a day after the bees arrived, I was forced to rush them into the field.  (I'll post those details in a later blog.)



My point is that one of my newly repaired boxes was left in an upside down lid on my trailer (the little red one you see above) and already is showing signs of water damage.  So never forget to paint the boxes.

The moral of the story is that a rotted super is not the end of the world.  The new repairs seem just as strong as the original boxes.

I finished my repairs last Friday but by that night began to feel a burning in my sinuses.  My son had been mildly sick all week so I may have caught something from him.  However, there was mold in some of the boxes (I will bleach out later) and the table saw did disperse a lot of dust into the air.  Whatever the cause, I have been very sick ever since then and unable to get off the couch (which is given me time to blog).  In the future I will wear a dust mask when cutting old wood.

Disclaimer:  This blog is a journal and is only meant to share my experiences.  If you choose to use any of this information then you do so at your own risk.  That being said, do try to be safe.  On more than one occasion, my table saw cut through old nails that could have caused real injury.  Always wear the proper PPE and pre-plan your work.


Monday, June 8, 2015

The New "Bee"ginning

As previously stated I bought 50 bee hives in 2006.  At the time the plan was for me and my brother to go into the business together and build up to 1000 hives.  Since I worked offshore and was between wives at the time, I had a bit of disposable income.  So I put up the money and he put up the labor.

However, in 2007 my mother suffered a stroke.  Doctor's bills mounted and my disposable income dried up.  So the project ended with the first 50 hives (or 100 deep suppers and 30 hives of surviving bees).  From then on for the next 5 years I began living at sea (sometimes in other countries) for 10 months out of the year.  My brother went on with his life and with no steady flow of money, he left the bees in the field to do as they would.

In 2010 I remarried and slowed my work schedule down to one month away and one month home.  At a dinner later that year I asked my brother how the bees were doing.  He answered, "F*** those bees, they're all dead."  His answer was so abrupt and jarring that words still echo in my head to this day.  Between tools, wood, plastic frames, chemicals, and bees, I had invested $10,000 in those 50 original hives.  Nonetheless, I was too shocked at his comment to reply so I changed the subject.

In 2012 I went to the old farm where we kept the bees and found that three hives actually had bees in them.  My wife was instantly intrigued and so we began planning to make our first harvest.  And in 2013 we did just that.  We harvested the most delicious September honey I've ever tasted.  It was black as molasses but the taste was extraordinary!  In all, we filled 50 pint size bears and about 12 half -quart jars.  My wife and I were hooked.
And of course I got stung
on the lip - Again!

We also moved one of our hives to another location that year.  I made it a family event and took my two kids with me (my son Lee who was 15 and my daughter Whitney who was 17 at the time).  This was also the first time I had attempted to interact with what will be referred to from here forward as The Beast.

The Beast is my most aggressive hive.  On multiple occasions I have received over 50 stings at a time from The Beast.  The day we attempted to move the hives, we started by lifting The Beast into the back of my truck.  However due to my miscalculating the weight of The Beast, we dropped it (I thought it weighed 200lbs but it weighed about 400lbs).  I immediately sent my kids from the area and into the truck to hide.  Whitney got stung 3 times and vowed never to bee keep again, while Lee made it out unscathed.

However, I now had a hive of angry bees scattered on the ground.  I couldn't just leave it so I stayed and put it back together.  My kids said when I came out of the woods, I looked like something from a horror movie.  I was covered from head to toe with bees.  The smoker had no affect on them and so I began walking out across the field.

The real terror of being stung so many times is not the pain but the question.  "How many times can I get stung before I go down?"  I could feel them stinging me through my jeans and coat.  Anyplace that my protective clothing made contact with my skin was as vulnerable as if I were naked.  After about 200 yards I pulled a clump of weeds from the ground and began wiping the bees away.  30 stings... 40 stings... how many more could I take?  I walked for a mile before I was alone with 3 persistent bees whom I delighted in squashing to death with my gloved hands.  The thought crossed my mind that The Beast might just be filled with Africanized Bees (Killer Bees) but then again I had thrashed their home onto the ground like a hungry bear.  So maybe I had it coming.  I obviously didn't die but the stings did leaving me feeling achy and a bit feverish the next day - but no worse for the wear.

The following year I made my second harvest, this time taking the honey from The Beast.  It was late September this time before I could pluck up the courage to face it but I did it.  The bees did sting me once or twice but I got the honey without any really trouble.

So it became a hobby... but a hobby with a future plan.  See, beekeeping can be fairly lucrative (Though finically risky) given that you have enough hives to work and the time to work them.  So my wife and I began to set a goal of 10 years.  In 10 years, we would have the kids out of the house, our bills paid off, and be ready to start beekeeping on a full-time bases.

That was until March 2015 when I met Marvin.  Marvin is a professional beekeeper who, coincidentally, started keeping bees in 2004 (or there about).  In that time he has done quite well with 500 hives.  It was by a chance encounter with him that we became friends and he became somewhat of a mentor to me in the beekeeping world.  With his guidance I immediately began splitting my hives.  In March I had 3 hives, in April I had 6, and in May I bought 8 new queens and made my total hive count into 14 (though 3 of those are not looking so good.)


March - The start
March - First split



April - 2nd split
May - 3rd split and new queens





Now I am gathering up the ruins of my original 50 hives and trying to salvage what I can.  As of now I have 60 deep supers, 3 shallows, and approximately 1,000 plastic frames in fair condition.  The rest I lost to wood rot.  I gave my brother all the tools I had originally bought as a settlement of our original deal.  He no longer wants anything to do with bees, while I still think they are a good investment.



On May 15th there was one last problem to come up.  I was laid-off.  With fuel prices at $50 a barrel (down from $100) nearly 100,000 workers have been laid-off in the Gulf of Mexico since November. I did manage to get a short job for two weeks and that money (combined with my wife's income and my meager unemployment check will carry us through the year).  However for now, I am totally unemployed.  This throws a new hitch into my plans for moving forward.  Rather than being able to invest in my bees, I will now have to make my bees do all the work.  However, 60 deep suppers can make 30 healthy hives.  With a little luck and prayer I can produce enough honey to buy more equipment.  So this is my story.  We will see how it all works out.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Born To Keep Bees - My First Paid Publication

In 2006 I began keeping bees.  In 2009 I sent the following story to Farm and Ranch Living - It was published later that year.
David pretending to be stung - then he was actually stung.

Born to Keep Bees, 
by Wm. Bryan Layton

Apiology is a way to commune with nature while learning about the wonders of the tiny, cooperative, docile creatures known as bees – or at least that is what the brochures had led us to believe.  My brother and I had read a stack of books, watched countless videos, and downloaded every beekeeping website we could find.  All of them echoed the same two sentiments: “bees are simple to raise” and “good beekeepers can go their whole lives without ever being stung.”  If there is any justice in the universe there will be a special circle of hell for those people who uttered these erroneous notions.
As with all new ventures, preparation is paramount.  Bees must be ordered between November and December to ensure that the Apiary (the place where bees are raised) will have enough bees to supply the April orders.  Hive boxes must be constructed ahead of time as well, since the bees can only be kept in their transport boxes for three to five days.  However our real adventure did not start until the Friday before Easter. 
I traveled across the state of Mississippi to pickup the new addition to our farm, while my brother stayed behind to make the last minute preparations.  Since there were no beekeepers in our area, this was my first opportunity to visit a working apiary. 
The owner and his two helpers drove in from the fields in a flatbed-pickup truck loaded with individual boxes containing three pound of bees each (three pounds is the typical amount needed to start a new hive).  The men bailed out of the truck wearing only coveralls and began recklessly unloading the boxes, placing queens inside them, and closing them up with feeder cans of syrup.  In moments the entire area was swarming with hundreds of agitated bees flying by my head like Maverick buzzing the Top Gun flight tower.  I had brought a beekeeping suit and hood but instead of looking like an amateur, I na├»vely opted to go without. 
Any sense of bravado I may have mustered up was instantly lost when a bee lit on the edge of my nostril.  To say I was unnerved would have put it mildly as every muscle in my body instantly and simultaneously clenched.  Slowly I began to make my way from the work area but just as I was clear of the swarm, the bee that was now spelunking up my snout skewered me with what can only be compared to the sensation of tweezing a nose hair with a white hot curling iron.  Instantly my right eye began to uncontrollably pour water.  Looking like a professional quickly fell from the top of my list of ambitions, as I hunkered down next to the truck and struggled to regain my composure.  Finally the tears subsided.  I dried my face and with a “never say die” attitude I returned to the work area only to be stung on the arm, behind the ear, and on the mouth giving my lips a supple Angelina Jolie-like quality.  Eventually my truck was loaded and I headed back home, no worse for the wear.
            My brother and I felt that fifty hives would make for a reasonable test group.  Enough hives to see variations but not so many as to break our budget if this all turned out to be one big mistake.  This idea proved prudent as problems arose daily. 
First off, it was recommended that the bees be misted with sugar water before placing them in their new hives to make their wings sticky and prevent them from flying away.  The fact that it was 30°F on Easter day caused several of the hives to become, for lack of a better word, gooey and then die.  We also got stung a few times in the process.
Next, as per the literature we had read, we fed the bees sugar water in specially designed feeders that fit inside the hive only to discover that bees cannot swim.   A large percentage of bees gave up their life to prove this heartbreaking point.  We also got stung a few more times. 
On day three, unbeknownst to us, one of the queens flew out of her hive while we were feeding them.  That night her faithful subjects followed her out into the night air and committed mass suicide on the ground by means of exposure. 
For an extra fee I was able to get replacement bees delivered to my house within a few days.  Capitalizing on the lessons learned early that week, I placed the new arrivals on the front seat of the truck until after lunch to keep them warm.  Later that day I found that the greenhouse effect from the truck windows had microwaved the bees into what appeared to be tiny striped pieces of popcorn.  We also got stung a few more times. 
By the end of the first week we had killed so many bees that we began to expect hate mail from PETA and by the end of the first month we had sent forty percent of our investment to that big beehive in the sky.  While many brave bees gave up their lives for the sake of our education, we still strangely count this endeavor as a triumph.  Invaluable lessons were learned such as – foam packing peanuts make excellent bee lifeboats as well as the importance of always checking our beekeeping hoods for rips. 

Now with our first summer coming to a close I am happy to report that we have thirty strong healthy hives, an education that can only come from doing, and personal pain thresholds that would rival that of any sideshow act.  So despite our initial setbacks, we are now and forevermore beekeepers and will continue to expand our apiary.  Beekeeping was not exactly what we expected but few things in life ever are.
That's me in the foreground and my brother, David in the back.