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GAYS MILLS - I have kept bees a couple times in the past. By that I mean I have owned hives, had the right equipment, managed the swarms that occupied the hives, and extracted and enjoyed some of the honey they produced. I have been very fortunate to have had the help of some serious, seasoned beekeepers to guide me as I entered bee kindergarten and progressed up until about I’d say bee third grade. I learned enough to know how much I don’t know about bees and keeping them.

Beekeeping is quite an enjoyable and educational activity. It opens your eyes and mind to a different world, a world that is close at hand and underappreciated. I enjoyed it even on the rare days that I got stung. For a while, I actually wanted to get stung because I heard that beekeepers aren’t bothered much by arthritis, something about the bee venom acting as a preventative. Later I found out, from a wise old beekeeper, that you need to be stung about thirty times right where the arthritis is to be of any benefit.

Beekeeping has become more complicated and difficult in the past few years.  You have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder.  With CCD, a strong, lively hive of bees just disappears, not the hive itself, just the bees, all of them mysteriously gone. There are mites and other pests that plague bees. Bees are also susceptible to agricultural pesticides. Poor weather is always a concern and increasingly extensive farm row cropping has reduced access to plants that attract bees.

So it was a pleasant surprise a few weeks ago when my friend John Havlik showed up at my place and asked if he could place a hive here. I readily agreed and the deed was done. John thought our location would give the hive access to a wide variety of honey plants (good pollen and nectar sources) over the summer. We don’t have that much cropland near us and there is water nearby, which the bees need for cooling the hive. He also left an second hive, an empty one, in case the first hive swarmed, or split, and would hopefully move into the vacant hive, right next to the active hive.

The hive is placed well away from the house in a spot that gets early and late sun. John bought a package of bees to start this hive. A package can be purchased from bee supply companies and contains either two or three pounds of regular bees and a queen. Starting with between 7,000 and 10,000 bees, John hoped to see the hive become established and grow to 40,000 or 50,000 bees.

I believe it is working. The bees have filled two large lower full-sized hive boxes (the brood chamber) with honey and young bees. A screen queen-excluder keeps the queen in the lower part of the hive.  The excluder allows the worker bees through and they have filled a half-sized box above the brood chamber with pure honey. John took that half-box of honey off a couple weeks ago and replaced it with an empty one. He figured the box he took contained about a gallon of capped honey and they will likely fill the new box by fall.

So I have bees again, nearby, this time as a passive observer. Since they arrived, I have been much more aware of what’s in bloom, which direction the bees are flying, and wondering how they are doing. It seems like a strong colony and they should be in good shape for the winter ahead.