Sunday, February 20, 2011

Facets of Beekeeping

Chuck Lorence has been promoting, educating, encouraging and protecting bees and their keepers for many years. He is creative, experimental and entrepreneurial. He has a long history of serving on boards, presiding over beekeeping clubs, and advancing the causes of beekeepers by his involvement in organizations, the state fair and politics. He is, in my opinion and I am pretty sure that I am in good company, The Master Beekeeper of Cook DuPage Counties in Illinois. In addition, he is frugal, approachable, entertaining and wise.

Chuck says that he and his wife were hippies in the 1970’s. Not the pot smoking kind of hippies but the natural food, gardener, live-off-the-land kind of hippies. He says, “You know, hippies brought us organic farming. They were the pioneers in that field.”

In 1971, Chuck read an article about beekeeping in a copy of Mother Earth News while waiting for a dentist appointment. It reminded him that his father used to keep bees when he was around the age of eight in Racine, WI.

He told a humorous story of how his father used to pull honey. With the bees swarming his father like a cloud, Chuck and his siblings and his mom watched from the safety of the screen door. He recalls his mother saying, “Do not laugh at your father.”

After reading the article on beekeeping, and seeing what it could do for the environment and our food supply, he went to the Wisconsin farm where he was raised and got his father’s old beekeeping equipment. He burned all that was beyond repair, and scraped, sanded and painted the rest and got his beekeeping start with two hives. He has been keeping bees ever since. He continued to teach graphic arts at Glenbrook South High School. However, unlike most hobbyist beekeepers, he figured out a way to make it a lucrative hobby. At his prime, he kept 150 colonies but recently downsized to 25-30 colonies.

When I heard that Chuck was going to semi retire, I jumped at the opportunity to sit under his teaching. I am so glad for this experience. Chuck is good. He is passionate. I leave class each Wednesday really wanting to become a beekeeper and believing that I can do it.

However, to be quite honest, I think that I like the idea of beekeeping better than actually doing the beekeeping. Much in the same way, I like the idea of dogs—especially Lassie-like stories. I like the idea of horses and horse stories and yes, I went through a phase of drawing horses. However, I can’t say that I really want a dog or a horse. In fact I am quite sure that if someone offered to give me a dog or a horse and pay for the expenses for one year, I would decline. I am not too optimistic that beekeeping is ever going to be much of a passionate hobby for me either.

Yet I was excited and eager to accompany my beekeeping hubby on Saturday to see if his girls had survived the winter.

He was overjoyed, ecstatic, to discover four surviving hives at this beeyard. We did not get to the other beeyards because we needed to do some other chores before attending our local beekeeper’s club meeting.

At this particular meeting, a CSI panel shared what they knew and did not know about dead-outs. (In beekeeping terms, a dead colony especially one that did not survive the winter is referred to as a “dead-out.”) One gracious beekeeper, brought an unopened winter colony—a dead-out and it was opened and dismantled and scrutinized—an autopsy of sorts. The panel and other knowledgeable beekeepers explained the forensic science of beekeeping. Several theories for this dead-out emerged. Perhaps there was too much moisture in the hive—but that theory did not make sense to me as it was wintered just like other colonies in the beeyard that survived and the dead bees were not wet. There was plenty of honey in the hive and no evidence of disease. The theory that made the most sense to me was that the queen died and the cluster became confused with no queen to protect. Thus small clusters were found in four or five areas of the hive. When they did not huddle and work together, they got cold and could not survive. Several beekeepers made suggestions as to why the queen might have died. It is important to know why colonies do not survive the winter so changes can be made for a better outcome the next year.

At first glance, you might think that beekeepers are an unusual group of people.

But here is what I discovered after attending several of these meetings each year.

Beekeepers are:
  • unpretentious
  • generous
  • vulnerable
  • sharing
  • kind
  • learned
  • hopeful
  • motivating
  • fascinating
  • hardworking

  • and appreciative of good desserts.

I am so glad that my hubby is a beekeeper!


Diana said...

I found this so very interesting Brenda! I love honey so the way that we get it is very interesting.
The sad thing is that the price of honey has gone up so much that I haven't been able to have any for a couple of years. It was once a staple in my house. A shame really as now I consider it a delicacy!
Love Di ♥

Brenda said...

I agree! It is sad that the price of honey has gone up. Unfortunately, because of pesticides and mites, there are no feral bees left. The only honey bees are kept by beekeepers. When we lose a hive of bees, it is lots of work to prepare the hive deeps and supers again for another colony and this year we are paying $82 for each colony that we need to replace. One of the beekeepers at our meeting last night has been a beekeeper for a long time and he lost 26 of 29 colonies this year. It is very sad. Most hobbiests beekeepers spend far more than they make from their hobby. We have never had a year where we break even. Yet it is a rewarding hobby and I am so glad that Bob is a beekeeper.

Mom/Barb said...

I learn something new about you every time I read a post of yours!
Unfortunately, hobbies usually are not lucrative.

Donna's Book Nook said...

I'm glad to see you are participating in hour hubby's hobby! My goodness, there is so much to learn about beekeeping.

There must be an analogy there somewhere that people can learn from bees. If we stay huddled together and close to our "living King" (instead of queen) we can survive and live well.

Brenda said...

You are absolutely right. There are so many life lessons about our Creator to be applied while studying bees.

Dee said...

Thank you Brenda for your prayers for my Frank and I. We have a tough road ahead of us...but we feel the Lords leading in every step we take and feel that all will be well. After reading your list of what a bee keeper is, not only is your husband a true bee are also.:)

Wanda..... said...

In the 8th grade, my research paper was about Honey Bees...they fascinate me...I love taking their photos on the Virginia Mountain Mint in the field...we had a sworm of them move into the cavity of an old tree by the driveway one summer. I remember many of your posts about the family activity of bottling honey.

Rebecca said...

Clearly this hobby places you in good company! I'm sure your interest and support mean a lot to your husband.

Thinking that you're getting close to moving day??? Is the new construction on target date wise?

Enjoyed sharing the dinner table with Lynn and Donna Sunday. Such good friends they are to us....

Brenda said...


Our closing is scheduled for March 25th. We will take our time moving. We are hoping that our house sells soon. It has been lots of fun to go daily and watch the progress.

Brenda said...

Thank you. You are kind. I'm sure it was doubtful until that last descripter of liking desserts helped. :)

Jacquelyn Stager said...

Brenda, this was so interesting...I know there are many lessons we can learn from the bees, as well as the beekeepers! However, lazy person that I am, unfortunately I want the fruit of labor without doing the labor. Please pass the honey!

Anonymous said...


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Can I use part of the information from this post right above if I provide a link back to this site?


Brenda said...

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That would be fine Please link back to me.