Smell of money is in the air

The harvest is underway. On the warm Sunday afternoon before Labor Day I pulled the first supers from my beeyard out west near the foothills as grey storm clouds billowed to the south and southwest over the foothills, taking away the sun just as I started to work. This will be my 38th honey harvest, and the routine has gone virtually unchanged in all those years, there are only so many ways you can milk a cow.

Since I work alone most of the time I have lots of time to think and harvest time is a hook on which lots of memories get hung. One of my favorites involves Harlan and one of our early harvests together, it was probably the fall of 1976 or 1977. (Man where has the time gone?) Anyway, at that time I had a big beeyard just up the hill from the Honey House, it was one I had bought from Harlan and originally it had been Ted Johnson’s, so it could well have dated back to the 1920s. At that time, in fact up until a few years ago when the heavy losses began, when we pulled honey we would pull a full truck load, 30, sometimes 40 honey supers. This represented perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of honey, plus the weight of the supers themselves, a big load for my ’63 Ford.

Even with two of us working together, putting supers on the truck just about as fast as we could carry them, it might take us 45 minutes to an hour before we had a load, and by then the bees in the beeyard had discovered the treasure in the truck, the word was out and we had lots of bees coming to the supers.

We couldn’t just pull down the hill and put those supers in the Honey House or we would then have all those bees inside. Eventually they would all exit through the bee escapes in the window screens, but that might take the rest of the day, so as I’ve described in columns in the past “we took ’em for a ride.”

I’ve done this many times in the fall when I’ve been discovered before I could get out of Dodge. It works this way: the “robbers” as they’re called, which seems a little unfair because they are only taking back what was theirs in the first place, anyway, when the robbers have filled their honey stomachs they head home, where they deposit their load and recruit other bees for the source they’ve found, just as if they had discovered a field of flowers in bloom. It isn’t long before a bee line builds up and the traffic increases.

Taking them for a ride means we would pull away from the beeyard a couple of hundred yards, sit for a few minutes while the robbers filled up and headed back to the beeyard, then pull away another hundred yards or so and repeat. In this way, if you stay within the flight range of the beeyard, the bees all go home, the supers are empty of bees and everyone is happy, except for those bees that return for another load and find the treasure gone.

Harlan and I pulled out on the county road and started the process. He stayed in the back of the truck and helped the bees along their way with a bee brush, gently brushing the bees off the tops of the supers as they emerged. Three or four stops put us about a half mile from the Honey House and bee free so we turned around to retrace our steps and get the supers into the Honey House before we were discovered again.

About half way back we met three young boys on bicycles, stopped in the road, astraddle their bikes looking curiously into the air. They were at one of our stopping points and were puzzled by the cloud of bees above their heads, all the returnees looking for the truck. They were in no danger and the bees were as puzzled as they were and were completely harmless. Under other circumstances I would have stopped and taken that opportunity for a bee lesson in the middle of the road, but had we done so all those bees would have been back in the supers and we would have had to start over. I’ve often wondered if after all these years those young boys remember their curious encounter with the bees.

I’m often asked how we get the bees to leave the honey supers. There are a number of ways, one way, bee escapes can be placed under the supers and the bees go below at night, leave the supers and can’t return. Hobbyists with a single colony and only one or two supers might brush the bees off each frame with a bee brush, then put them in a bee tight empty super. Some beekeepers use bee blowers which blow the bees out of the super with high speed air. For bigger operations with larger volumes to deal with, what are called fume boards are the usual choice. A fume board is a cover that goes on top of a colony which has a cloth under a screen that is about 2-inches above the comb when it is put on a colony. An aromatic substance called Bee Go is put on the cloth and the vapors quickly move the bees out of the supers. Using this method a lot of supers can be pulled off a beeyard in a short time. What few bees remain can be lost by a stop or two on the way out.

Bee Go has a very distinctive aroma, some find it offensive, but I have to admit that I kind of like the smell of Bee Go, it brings back lots of memories of harvests past, it’s the smell of fall, the smell of money. It can be pretty insistent though, gets into your clothes and takes a few hours to wear off. As I’ve said in the past, it assures you a seat at the diner on the way home. For the more faint of heart there is another formulation called Honey Robber which has a cherry scent and is a little less in your face.

I remember another Bee Go memory, a late summer trip a number of years ago when Barbara and I were taking back roads to the farm in Wisconsin. We were headed east on Highway 20 between Chadron and Hay Springs, Neb. The road was curving through some hilly, wooded country, and as we rounded a bend I got the distinct fragrance of Bee Go wafting through the air. It was an August afternoon and I looked to each side of the road, expecting to see a beeyard close, but saw nothing. A few more bends and we pulled up behind the local beekeeper’s truck, loaded with supers just pulled from a beeyard somewhere and trailing the smell of money.

I’ve pulled, extracted and bottled the first pass at two beeyards, today we will pull and run Red’s, tomorrow I’ll pull the honey from the tall colonies I took the photo of and put in the column a few weeks ago, will extract that Friday and maybe Saturday. This rotation will continue until all of the honey is in and there is no more smell of Bee Go in the air. ❖


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