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The Beehive: Texas trip is a beekeeper’s dream; commercial honey haven

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By Brett Kent / For the Enterprise - Welcome back to the Beehive. I write this column as I have just returned from Woodville, Texas. I think I have just lived every beekeeper’s dream. I was invited to Texas for a week, and was able to work with my buddy Jerrel Johnson and his three sons as they jump start their commercial honey bee business for the season. This was a great opportunity to see the commercial bee business first hand.

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First, let me get you up to speed on the Jerrel’s business. Jerrel is a second-generation bee farmer who lives in Clearbrook, Minn. Jerrel and his boys run about 10,000 beehives. By the way, that’s a lot of bees. Jerrel and his boys sell their honey by the 50-gallon barrel to Suebee Honey.

The beehives are scattered about the countryside, in bee yards, about 40 hives per yard, around Clearbrook and Carrington, N.D. In the most recent years, Jerrel has managed the hives in the Clearbrook area, with the help from his youngest son Marcus. Jerrel’s other two boys, Ethan and Dana have run the operation in Carrington. Just this last year, Jerrel has decided to turn the full business over to the boys.

Now, in the fall, the bees are hauled on semi-itrucks to Woodville for the winter. Jerrel and his family would then live in Texas each spring to get the bees ready for the trip back to Minnesota. During this time, Jerrel’s boys would split time in school in both Texas and Minnesota, when they were younger.

So, let me tell you about my trip. Jerrel and I drove to Woodville in his pickup. It is about 23 hours south of Park Rapids or about one hour northeast of Houston.

We left Park Rapids about 6:30 a.m. one morning last week. Jerrel and I started talking when we left our driveway and talked for 23 hours. Jerrel told me they usually stop and sleep in a motel to break up the trip. I told Jerrel that I was used to driving all night and I was too excited to sleep, so we drove straight through.

During the trip down there, it became obvious that Jerrel was a connoisseur of good food. Jerrel pointed out every good hotel and restaurant between Albert Lea and Joplin Missouri.

I began thinking, Jerrel has made this trip for the past 40-some years. Most of those years, Jerrel drove his own semi-truck, hauling his own bees. I don’t know if you folks recall the columns I wrote about hauling my bees to Kansas, but that was one of the most nerve-racking experiences I have ever endured.

I think I wrote, “I didn’t think you could be puckered up for 12 hours at a time, but I was wrong.” Jerrel went on to say that he would get so worked up about making a trip with the bees, he would get sick. So, I’m thinking at this point, we have had the same experience hauling bees.

Anyway, we pulled into Jerrel’s Woodville home about 3:30 a.m. We slept for about three hours and were up by 8 a.m. ready to go. The first thing I noticed about Woodville in the daylight hours, to my surprise, is that it looks a lot like the forested areas around Park Rapids.

The countryside is full of yellow pines, which look just like Norway pines. Jerrel told me that logging is one of the main industries in the area. Moving on, Jerrel and I met the boys who were already out at the first bee yard of the day. The boys were going through the beehives and finding the old queens. This job is called hunting queens.

The object is to find the old queen and pinch her. Then we make two hives out of one, and leave them “queenless” for a day. The following day, a queen cell is placed in each one of the new hives. The queen cells are scheduled to hatch the same day they are placed in the hive. So, you can see, there is already some careful planning to make this all come together.

I am getting a little long winded so I will continue this story next time. In the next column, I will tell you about all the different jobs I did, from grafting new queens, to making builder hives, to placing queen cells in four frame boxes, and lots more. I will also tell you about the first lesson I learned, just five minutes into our visit. As always, thanks for your interest. You folks take care.

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