Bees and Mental Health

Soul Walrus

Walrus on a bee
Walrus on a bee

We recently took delivery of a piano. My wife saw it in Forsyth’s in Manchester and, having declared it to be a lifelong dream to learn to play, persuaded me that such purchase made perfect sense. I have to admit; it is a thing of beauty. It’s a second hand Kawai TP125 piano, and in the hands of a competent player, it sounds terrific. I have decided to learn too. My wife is learning from a book, and I’m going the more techy route using ebooks/videos on my iPad. The video below shows the piano being played by somebody who is a little further along the learning curve than us.

Little Grey Cells

I’m still a very young walrus, but I am keen to keep the little grey cells in tip-top shape. Learning a new skill, like piano playing, is very good for the brain. I found a course that gets straight down to playing chord progressions and tunes because it turns out that I’m not just incredibly young, I’m impatient too. I’m hoping that this new pastime will be good for my soul like beekeeping is. I am not part of any particular religion, so talk of a soul seems odd, even as I type. However, when I stand on a mountain top devouring the view, I get a feeling of peace and wonderment. I get that from beekeeping. Not all the time; sometimes the little sh*ts can invoke thoughts that are far from spiritual, but mostly the bees are chill and so am I.

How to Frame it

Recently I have been making National frames and putting wax into lovely new Langstroth frames. The Nationals are for nucs that I sell; the Langstroths are for me. The Langstroth frames are solid, chunky and will last for years whereas I thought the Nationals were a bit flimsy and pathetic. I shall one day look into the history of why Brits decided not to use the Langstroth hive as standard, like most of the rest of the world, but it doesn’t matter really. We are where we are. Brits use National hives, and I must accept this.

My Langstroth frames came from Swienty in Denmark. They are made of knot-free linden wood and come pre-wired. All I have to do is lay the foundation on the wires and briefly pass a current through. The wires heat up, and the wax melts into them. They are the best I’ve seen. The wax foundation was from Kemble Bee Supplies and is damn fine stuff indeed. I love the smell of beeswax.

Langstroth Brood Frame
Langstroth Brood Frame

A Place for Plastic

Speaking of frames, I have quite a few plastic ones too. I like the black plastic brood frames because eggs stand out so clearly against a black backdrop. Also, I can spin them in my extractor with little chance of a “blow out” which can happen with wax in its first year. My main gripe with plastic frames is that the bees sometimes draw the wax out in a messy way with brace comb all over the place. When that happens, it’s easy enough to scrape them off so that the bees can have another go. This coming year I have a lot of plastic mini-plus frames to get drawn out for mating nucs, so I hope the bees are on their best behaviour. I think I’ll put them on colonies desperate for space and feed them syrup until they have built out the combs. Some people have suggested that dipping plastic frames in molten wax helps the bees to get started, but at present, I don’t have the gear for that.

Under Cover

The publication date for my book draws ever closer. The cover design is fantastic, so even if people don’t read it, they will have an attractive addition to the bookshelf or coffee table. It was created by my youngest daughter Isla, also known as Squg . She worked on Star Wars, but I think most people will agree that the pinnacle of her career to date has been designing the cover to “Interviews with Beekeepers.”

Randy + Bear

Here is a small piece of an interview from the book, with Randy Oliver:

Randy: Hey, good morning! It’s my son Eric. This is Steve, from England. He’s an author. He’s going to be interviewing me today and tagging along.

[Conversation with Eric about what they are doing today]

Randy: How bad was the bear damage?

Eric: It’s ongoing – I’ve been up there every day. There are two hives gone, and a bunch of them were knocked over, but I’ve fixed that. It’s a really crafty bear. You should see the fence I’ve put up there; it’s above and beyond anything I’ve ever done before.

Randy: Ah! Brain to brain against a bear, huh?

Eric: It’s been digging underneath the neighbour’s fence, then excavating under our hives – he’s a digger, he’s got pits everywhere. I put the wire right down into the hole, and he just came back and dug deeper, he went underneath again. There’s been no more damage this morning, but no signs that he’s been around. All the bait is still there.

Steve: What’s that about bait?

Randy: We hang strips of bacon on the top hot wire so that the bear will get a shock directly to the nose or mouth. One good shock to that area will make a bear avoid the fence perhaps for the rest of its life.

I had three hives there with magnetic traps on the entrances – are they still there?

Eric: No, all gone.

Steve: What’s all that about?

Randy: I’m running a large experiment to get hard data on the drifting of bees and varroa mites from hive to hive. We’ve glued steel tags to the backs of 6,000 bees, and we’re recovering them with magnetic entrance traps when the bees drift to other hives – this yard is a mile away, yet we have recovered tags there.

We have bear issues here!

Steve: Do you poison them, or trap them or shoot them?

Randy: No, we put the electric fences up. You can shoot them if you get a permit, but that’s not too popular with the neighbours, and we want to get along with our local wildlife, not hurt them. So, what we do is to train the resident bear to avoid our electric fence around the apiary, and the resident bear then keeps other bears away.

Steve: OK

Randy: We make it painful for them. They learn that those white wires will give them pain. But this guy has learned how to get underneath them. We’ve got 55 bee yards around here, so that’s a lot of maintenance. Similarly, we don’t want to harm our local skunks (which pillage hives at night) – we also train them rather than kill them.

2 replies »

  1. Good luck with your new venture – to both of you! I’m doing things the other way round having been a piano player and teacher all my life and taken up beekeeping (fanatically) a couple of years ago. Time at the piano will be good for the soul. And yes, that is the right word!

    I’m enjoying your writing, though there’s a lot of older posts I’m looking forward to reading.

    • Thanks Archie! If you ever want to discuss bees you know where I am. It might take a year or two before I have much to discus re: piano 😀

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