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Texas trip leaves a few stings along with some laughs

Local beekeeper Brett Kent visited friends that winter their bees in Texas for a better survival rate. He ended up with a few stings while working with bees. (Submitted photo)

By Brett Kent / For the Enterprise

Welcome back to the beehive. In the last column, I wrote about my trip to Woodville, Texas. I am going to give a recap to get those of you that missed it, up to speed. Then, I will continue to tell you about my experience while on a beekeeper’s dream vacation in Texas.

About a month ago, my buddy Jerrel Johnson, a commercial beekeeper from Clearbrook, drove to Woodville to meet up with his boys, Ethan, Dana and Marcus Johnson. Last fall, the bees were shipped to Woodville as part of the yearly southern migration. This allows the beekeepers to winter their bees in a warmer climate and helps insure a better survival rate.

The boys move their families to Woodville in early January to begin a new season. There are many different facets to the operation. In January, the boys go through their bees, about 7,000 hives, and sort out most of the stronger hives. These hives are shipped by truck to California to help pollinate the almond orchards. The beekeepers are paid per hive for essentially renting out the services of the bees.

The bees are kept in California for 6 to 8 weeks. The boys shipped seven semi loads of bees to California this year. When Jerrel and I went to Texas, most of the bees were still in California, but this doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of bees to take care of.

You see, the boys are also in the business of selling bees. They make up nucs, which are 4-frame starter hives. The nucs are sold to beekeepers like me. They sell these starter hives to other commercial or hobbyist beekeepers both big and small. The boys also sell queen cells and bred caged queen bees. The queens are also sold to other beekeepers who may have had poor survival during the winter, or maybe someone looking to expand.

The first morning, Jerrel and I meet up with the boys out at the first bee yard having about 100 hives. The boys were queen hunting. Jerrel tells me to grab my veil and gear up. I look over at Jerrel and he is wearing a veil that is different from the one I use back home. The veil he is wearing allows more ventilation. I actually thought about the hot Texas heat, so I brought a veil just like the one Jerrel was putting on. Not wanting to be different, I opt to wear a veil just like Jerrel’s. I get the veil on and put on my bee gloves. I notice Jerrel just rolls his sleeves up and is going in with no protection on his hands and arms. Now, being the new guy, I’m thinking no way. I didn’t want to be the same as Jerrel that bad.

Jerrel and I walk over to the boys and he introduces me to Dana and Ethan. The boys are very friendly and we strike up a conversation right away. They explain what the task is and I get to work. I’m digging through a hive, looking for the queen and I got stung right in the Adams apple. I try to keep cool and take it like I’ve been stung before, but right in the throat, oh man.

Ethan looks over at me and asks if I’m OK? I say sure, but I’m thinking this was a real bad place to get stung. Then without hesitation, I get stung again, right in the throat. I looked over at Jerrel and he is taking bee stings to his arms like they are mosquitoes. That man is the toughest human being on the planet.

I am trying to act like I can hang with the big dogs, but I’m about ready to run for the hills. Ethan looks over and asks me again if I’m OK? I say yeah, but I tell him that getting stung in the throat really takes your breath away. Ethan agreed, while laughing, and then told me that I have my veil tied wrong and that I was probably going to get it again. Now. I am feeling stupid and my throat hurts. I retied my veil and the next thing I feel is a bee crawling up my pants leg.

Oh my goodness. I did a little dance, more laughter from the Johnson boys, and I got the bee about the time he was stinging me. So, in a very short introduction period, I learned to pay attention to detail, i.e., tie my veil correctly, and also to tuck my pants into my boots.

So, we made our way through the hives, hunting the queens and pinching them. The strong hives were split. When I say split, I mean we would take a frame of pollen and a frame of honey and two frames of brood from a strong hive and this would be the beginning of a new 4-frame nuc. The new nucs were then placed on a truck and hauled to a new location. In the morning, Marcus and I would return to the nucs and place a new queen cell in each one.

The nucs are lined up along a road of a gated paper company land. This allows Marcus quick access to the nucs and gives them plenty of room so the newly hatching queens can go on their mating flights and come back to their respective nuc boxes and start laying eggs.

I am also including a picture of a bee yard. It shows the boys and their workers going through the hives queen hunting. The truck is loaded with empty nuc boxes. In two days time, these boxes were filled with full frames and the new hives being created.

Lots more to talk about – I will write again in a few weeks. Next time I will include some great pictures of queen cells and queen grafting. As always, thanks for your interest. You folks take care.