Stephanie Pullen on Raising Bees

 Stephanie Pullen “Beekeepers”

 My husband and I have been beekeepers for about four years, and what got us into it was my father in law, a bee keeper in the late1900s and early 1900s. We had been reading about the origin of honey bees and how important honey bees and other pollinators are to our world. So we just dove right in and bought twenty hives. Some people start out with one or two, but we'll get twenty and see what we can do. Some don't make it; we'll have others to fall back on. Since then, it's been great. Our hives have grown to several hundred that we manage, and do have them spread across Fannin and Delta Counties. Our boxes have a JP on them and they are white. So if you see those boxes, they are for our bees. We feel that we are doing our part by helping raise strong hives and increase the honey bee population in the world.

I thought I would share with you, just share what a day in our beekeeper’s life looks like, and how we manage them and what we look for and keep them healthy. Then what we do after we raised the bees and they're really strong. What we can do with the honey that the bees make, as you can see this is one of our beehives and we usually check our hives about once a week and then we rotate. We'll check one bee yard that week, and we probably won't come back and check it for several weeks. We'll go to the next bee yard and check those hives. What’s really important about honeybees is their gut health, and there are mites called verola mites that are attacking the honeybee population. They latched onto the honeybee and, and can kill the hive. We really focused on that for their gut health and give them probiotics, just like you would take probiotics. We give them probiotics for their gut health and prevent them from getting sick.

 With mites, we do something different, I call them tests to see if they have mites. You can use a powdery substance on the bees, put them in the hive and you'll be able to see how many mites are in the hive. We try to do that a couple of times a year, and we’ve definitely seen a major improvement in our bees overall health, and the sustainability of the hive by doing both of those things.  I'll tell you what we go out there and do. We obviously have to wear protective gear to protect us from getting stung. It looks like it's pretty thin, but the bees can’t sting through it, and it's pretty breathable material. We wear our jackets and not the full suit. We usually just wear jeans, boots, and leather gloves.  The gloves protect our fingers because they can't sing through the leather.

 This is a picture of a beekeeper pulling out a frame. So our block looks like this except they’re white and are ten grains in each box. What we do is pull out the frame and especially right now in the spring. We want to make sure that we can find the queen, which is the largest bee in the hive. You have to find her first, and there are special small cages that you can use to catch her. You can pick her up very carefully. My husband is really quick at it. It still takes me a little bit. But once you familiarize yourself with the hive, you’ll know the drones are bigger too.  They’re not as big as the queen, but you will be able to tell the difference between a worker bee, a drone, and a queen. Some beekeepers mark their queen.

 The first thing we want to see if the queen is in there, because the drones can also lay eggs. We want to keep the eggs that the queen lays, and you can see this frame. Most of all of that in the middle is the brood that the queen has laid and they have covered it over with wax, and pretty soon new bees will hatch out of those cells. You'll see that this is kept honey, so you can see the differences. People ask how you know which ones filled with honey. How do you know which one is filled with the bee larva that it looks completely different? They use the honey for themselves too. So they do produce honey and need pollen. The pollen is there protein and the honey would be more like their carbs and sugar.

 So the drones are males and they lay eggs that will hatch, just like the Queen. What's interesting about a beehive, in the winter they don't lay eggs? So when they're getting ready for the cooler season, they will kick all of the drones out of the hive. They eventually die, because the other hives won’t let them back in. So in the winter there are only females in that hive. The Queen in the spring will lay new eggs, and therefore making new drones.

 Which bees collect the pollen? So they each have different, they each have different assignments or job duties based on their age. It’s really neat and I still have a good info-graphic on Facebook about this. Their first couple of days of life is to care for the other brood in the hive. So any other brood that's in there, their job is to take care of the larva. So that's what they do is nurse bees.

 It progresses from there and eventually; they will be the bees that fly off to get the pollen and the nectar. The new drones are going to protect the old ones, but then they get kicked to the curb later on.

 There can be 50,000 or more bees in one hive. We just split it when they get too big for their boxes. You either have to add another box on that with beehive or you can split it. We just looked at one and put this one back in my observation hive, several thousands of bees per hive.

 If their hive is clean, list but there is brood, they will make their own queen. They will feed her royal jelly. Each bee gets bad royal jelly up to a certain point. Once they do, she’ll get fed royal jelly her whole life. If there's not any brood, then you have to re-queen the hive. You can craft your own queen cells which can be a lot of work; but you can also graph your own queen’s cells and put the cells in the hive or you can buy queens that are already hatched and made it. So there are some different options. You can buy a full grown queen that’s ready to go.

 You put it, yes. You put the little track that she is in in the hive for a little while, until they can get used to her scent.

 They have to get used to her being in the hive, so you don't want to let her out right away.  They'll get used to her scent and usually there are a couple of nurse bees in there with her, to get the water and give it to her. They take good care of that queen, since there's only one in the whole hive. They take good care of her, and then you can release her into the hive. The queen’s life span is usually several years, while the drones die every year. The queen needs to be checked each year, to see if there are any changes in her egg-laying pattern and in the brood pattern.

 To get a hive started, is called a nucleus, and is usually 3 to 4 frames of bees. In those frames are two frames of Brood that the queen has laid and one frame of honey and a point. You have to start with that and then it'll grow into a full hive. We do send our bees to California for almond pollination. When we get our bees back, they're usually pretty healthy. They've been on the almonds, and we split them. Then we’ll take one queen with one hive and we'll have to re- queen the other one. That's really what you start with.

 Once our hives are strong and if we need to apply the probiotic and any type of mite treatment, we will then extract the honey. But we only extract some of it because we want to leave it in there for them, because they need that to survive and they worked really hard for it. So one bee in its lifetime usually only makes one teaspoon of honey. So we really look at the honey as being very precious.

 Before we extract the honey, we use a small amount of smoke to temporarily confuse the bees from becoming aggressive, which is another reason we wear protective clothing. The smoke poses no harm to the bees, or the hive.

 We do sell our honey now in different locations in Greenville and Commerce area. We also have it at a fruit stand and the hometown vintage market off of Live Oak Street in Commerce. In order to sell our honey to wholesale and other retail stores, we did have to get our Food Manufacturers License. We had to go through that program and get our Food Managers Certificate, and had to bottle it in a commercial kitchen. Under the Cottage Food Law beekeepers can sell their honey, but they have sell to it directly or, or a family member can sell it so they can go to a farmer's market or a vendor event. We did have a great honey crop and felt that since our hives are growing really well and healthy, that we would do that because we had so much honey.

 If you have some space that can be dedicated for several beehives, I highly recommend becoming a beekeeper. It’s not only beneficial to the environment and keeping a strong bee population, but can be educational as well as something the whole family can do together.