Bee Time – Arkansas Times

Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, has lived on his great-grandparents’ farm in northern Pulaski County for 40 years. This is the second in a series of articles about daily life on the land where he grows heirloom tomatoes and other produce for local restaurants and the Hillcrest Farmers Market.

My uncle Elsie was a big, smiling man who worked in the oil fields outside of Smackover. In my memory, he always wore blue overalls, had a couple of old trucks that didn’t work, and dozens of beehives. He, Aunt Helen, and my cousins ​​lived on Highway 78 just outside of Smackover, next to my grandmother’s ramshackle farmhouse, in an unpainted, clapboard house with a swept yard. When my dad’s Studebaker pulled into the yard, my cousins ​​surrounded it, and a few minutes later we were running through the watermelons to the river bottom. I loved going there.

Elsie ran a honey stand on the highway with fruit bowls full of glowing amber honey and combs. I would watch my uncle, covered in bees, pull out the hives and bring out the frames full of honey with golden hoods. It was always in the hot summer and he smelled of sweat and smoke and honey. To this day, when I work with my bees, I’m covered in sweat, honey, and burlap smoke from the smoker, as if my uncle is standing behind me.

I accidentally got into beekeeping 10-15 years ago. I had beautiful tomato vines for two seasons, but no tomatoes, which I attributed to a lack of pollinators. What I didn’t know at the time was that tomatoes are self-pollinating and the lack of fruit is due to late planting and warm night temperatures causing flower drop. But by then I had two hives, about 60,000 bees, a bee cover, hive tools and a smoker. As they say, I remained loyal.

When spring arrives and the hive is full of new brood, the workers decide it’s time to brood, with about one-third choosing to mate with the existing queen and two-thirds choosing to stay with the new queen. Every year, stories and photos of giant swarms of bees hanging from lampposts or tree branches begin to appear. This is how bee colonies multiply. One spring I came home to find that a swarm from our hive had moved to the wall of my farmhouse with several thousand bees flying around the kitchen. The queen had built a residence in the wall, and it was impossible to remove her and her hive without demolishing most of the house. Finally and unfortunately we had to call in the exterminator.

CELOSIA: When in full bloom, it provides the bees with a great source of pollen to make more honey before the first frost.

Sometimes the queen is hesitant to leave the hive during the breeding season, prompting her workers to feed her less and less and even physically shake her. The hive will die without the ability to lay eggs, but it’s not the boss. He goes when and where he is told. As she and her followers leave, she is replaced by several young queen candidates who emerge from their cocoons at about the same time. This is not a peaceful transfer of power. The first new queen to emerge bites and kills all the sister queens while they are still in the brood cells. If one emerges before being killed, the two queen candidates will fight to the death.

Then there’s bee sex, the ultimate kink.

A few days after displacing her rivals, the virgin queen leaves the hive to mate. Some distance away, but always about 100 feet in the air, is a giant singles bar for bees with hundreds of male drones waiting for a virgin queen to appear. Somehow he knows where the party is and upon arrival is immediately chased by circling drones. After a chase, one of the drones will get lucky and they’ll have mid-air sex. But when the drone pulls away, it empties the gut, allowing the queen to continue on her merry way as she lies on the ground. She will do this 10 to 50 times (entomologists disagree on the exact number) in her lifetime before carrying enough sperm to lay hundreds of thousands of eggs.

PACKING IN THE BOX: This frame is filled with honey, but has no lid, so the moisture level would be too liquid if Leveritt tried to pack it. This goes back to the high box that the bees will use all winter for food.

Last year one of my oldest hives died and I don’t know why. I noticed fewer bees flying in the entrance and one day there were none. I opened the hive and found the queen bee and thousands of workers dead at the bottom of the hive. I waited until this spring and went to Bemis Honey Bee Supply in south Little Rock and bought a replacement package of 10,000 female worker bees with a queen in a 2 inch wire cage with a hard candy stopper. The idea is to pour the workers into a hive box with frames, and once they’re inside, I’ll squeeze a tubular queen bee cage between the frames for the workers to explore.

This queen is a stranger to them, and they’ll start chewing on a day or two’s worth of candy so they can go in and kill her. But when they got to her, she released enough pheromone into the hive that they now accept her as their queen. Unfortunately, I accidentally dropped the cage, popped the candy plug, and it went flying. I thought he might have returned to the hive and checked the next day only to find him dead at the bottom of the hive. It was a regisd. Cold flew into the hive without an adaptation period for the release of pheromones. The next day I returned from Bemis with a new queen and cage and this time the delivery was successful. Today the hive is blooming.

A beekeeper friend of mine once told me that the time to strip your bees is when the hive is full of honey. The “deep hive box” below is for brood, and the next one is for honey to feed the hive in the winter. Theoretically, everything mentioned above applies to the beekeeper. I was ready to strip the third deep hive box, but I left it alone when I realized there was a capped brood among the capped honeycombs. But my top middle hive box was heavy with about 40 pounds of golden lidded honey.

BEE APOSTORIES: Dora Trachsel and Alan Leveritt are about to rob the bees.

My girlfriend Suzanne Boscarolo and her sister Dora Trachsel, a visiting bee lover from Switzerland, came out one Sunday to help me strip the bees. Dressed in long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and a bee cover, we removed the top of my old hive and Dora began smoking the bees, pulling them out of the honey frames and into the depths of the hive. I would give the full honey frames to Suzanne and she would brush off the remaining bees with a soft brush and place the frames in a closed ice chest. Retreating to a screened-in porch to keep the bees away, we removed the hive lids and inserted the frames into an electric honey extractor/spinner lent to me by a kind neighbor. Centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the comb and it collects at the bottom of the extractor. By opening a valve at the bottom of the extractor, we emptied the honey through a filter and into plastic buckets. In the end, we harvested about 3 gallons of raw honey in a few dozen fruit bowls that I will give away or sell at the Hillcrest Farmers Market later this year.

I do grow cut flowers for the farmers market, although I don’t currently have enough produce to warrant a trip into town at 6am every Saturday. The flowers, especially the celosia, are in full bloom and covered with my honey bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Bees have plenty of honey for the winter in their lower hive boxes, and they will be able to fill some of the stolen honey with celosia pollen. Just to be sure, after we get our first killing frost in November, I will feed them with heavy sugar water every week until the peach trees bloom in the spring and the cycle starts again.

When I first became interested in beekeeping, I started attending Central Arkansas Beekeepers Association meetings on the second Monday of each month at the Levi Church of Christ on Camp Robinson Road in North Little Rock. People were enthusiastic and welcoming to newbies and I learned a lot. I took one of their periodic “Beekeeping for Beginners” courses and soon bought a hive from one of the members with a “nuc” of 10,000 bees and a queen. Most cities in Arkansas, including Little Rock, allow residents to keep bees with some restrictions on the number of hives and proximity to neighbors.

SMOKING: Alan Leveritt opens a box of hives while Dora Traxsel tends to the smoker.

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