In my first encounter with the world of beekeeping, I learned that bees need a lot of stuff — from frames, bottom boards, and covers, to supers and a queen excluder.
Everything goes better with the right equipment. Anyone will tell you that. Sure, sometimes it may be someone with a vested interest like, say, a guy along the lines of my John Deere dealer (Honest RC, The Farmer's Friend From Beginning to End), but sometimes it's just common sense.
Let's say, hypothetically, that you want to raise bees. You need the right equipment to make that happen, especially if the end goal is to generate some honey production and sales. (Really, though, how many people raise bees just because they enjoy the opportunity to get stung a lot?)
As it turns out, Mrs. Guy No. 2 raises bees. She had them for about 10 years or more when she lived in Michigan. Not only did they not fit in the moving truck last summer, they required paperwork and a state inspection to make the move from Michigan to Iowa. We can't have bees from one area migrate to another area without the government getting involved and generating some fees now, can we? Who wants honey from bees without the proper green card?
Rather than pay the fees and have her bees inspected and approved for interstate shipment, Sherill decided to leave them in Michigan with a friend. Meanwhile, what with the ideal location of her new residence with its plentiful timber and fields full of pollen-laden plants, Sherill has decided that she should get back in the bee business here in Iowa. A good share of the credit (blame ?) for that goes to a certain district court judge from the northern portion of the state. Seems that he and his wife are beekeepers near Waterloo. While sharing in some small talk after a certain ceremony was performed earlier in the winter near The World's Smallest Church, said jurist asked if we'd be attending the Iowa Beekeepers Association auction this spring. It would be held in Perry on April 16th.
Why, no, Your Honor, we didn't know about it and weren't planning on attending, but thanks so much for the tip! (I was already scheduled for some dental work, so maybe they'd be able to get my teeth back in order after I had them clenched so tightly in response to his helpful advice.)
April 16 rolled around and we made our way to Perry, following the directions contained in The Buzz, the monthly newsletter of the Iowa Beekeepers Association.
Auctions are nothing new to me. I've been to cattle auctions, swine auctions, sheep auctions, farm equipment auctions, real estate auctions, you name it. This was my first time at a bee auction, though. Let's be honest. It wasn't really a beeauction. They weren't selling the actual bees. It was more of a bee equipment auction. There was no deafening buzz from dozens of swarms of bees nearby. Quite the opposite, actually. It was pleasantly quiet. The swarms came the next weekend when we went to another town in central Iowa to pick up the packages of bees to build the foundation of our herd. Herd? Flock? Swarm? I'm not sure what you call your bunch of bees, but I bet it's a catchy term.
The first thing we discovered after getting out of the truck was that mid-April was not balmy in Iowa this year. Being the nice guy I am, I immediately offered Sherill my warm winter coat bestowed upon me by The Old Goat Woman, Ada Austin, of goat sock fame. I was willing to sit in the truck and watch, maybe even enjoy some quality time with my iPod, as the auction went along. It's not that I didn't want to spend a couple hours outside in the cold with a bunch of people with whom I had almost nothing in common. Not at all.
Sherill would hear nothing of it. My attendance was not only mandatory; it came with maximum separation distance requirements. She'd be fine in her sweatshirt and a blanket from the truck.
We went to the small building that served as the auction office. It was about the size of a Buick. The interior of a Buick. Not the kind of place where they'd be holding the auction, I surmised. We got our paperwork filled out for a buyer number and headed back to the area where all the equipment was to see if they had what we were after.
Let me jump in here and make one thing perfectly clear. I have no experience with bees. I have less experience with bee equipment. If I ever thought we used a lot of lingo in my industry, I was in for a big surprise from these bee people. They have nucs. They have supers. They have shallows. They have comb. They have smokers. They have bottom boards. They have inner covers. They have telescoping covers. They have brood chambers. They have queen excluders. They have workers. They have queens. They have extractors. They have foundation. They have requeening. They have wax. They have wires. They have rounds.
Makes the use of MGA in a TMR instead of a CIDR as part of a Co-Synch system with GnRH almost seem logical.
The scary part was that everyone there seemed to be fluent in all the terminology except me. That's when I decided my main role would be to act as more of a windbreak for Sherill than as an advisor.
One thing I noticed about guys in the bee industry is that they seem to really, really enjoy facial hair. There seemed to be an inordinate number of bearded guys at this gathering. It wasn't exactly a ZZ Top impersonator convention, but it wasn't quite a Marine Corps base, either. Perhaps the bee guys feel it's harder to get stung if the bee can't actually FIND your skin!
The auction finally got under way. Our auctioneer was a Kris Kringle look-alike, except he was sporting a blaze orange hat and Carhartt coat instead of the standard jolly red vest. I soon discovered that Colonel Kringle knew his bee lingo! He didn't have to stop and ask anybody what each particular piece was, and he knew how to explain its function and use as he described it.
To say I went into this a bit uneducated and without expectations would be putting it mildly. I figured we'd be getting some of the big boxes to put bees in. You know, the square white things you see sitting in the woods sometimes. That was about the extent of what I knew and thought ahead of time. It didn't take long in the auction to find out that Sherill knows way more about all the equipment and stuff than I ever will. She was bidding on stuff that made no sense to me, and she was winning, so it must have made sense to her.
By the time the auction was over, it seemed to me like Sherill's hand had gone in the air way more times than what my tiny little Chevy Colorado was capable of hauling in one load. I started looking over the piles of frames, bottom boards, covers, supers and other stuff she had purchased and decided that all the cold weather at least would allow me to make two trips to Perry without having it interfere with corn planting. Add in the requisite stop at Hickory Park in Ames and/or Mustard's in Des Moines and this wouldn't be all minus-minus, lose-lose for yours truly.
Sherill visited with her fellow apiarists while I did the heavy lifting. She was impressed with my jigsaw puzzle work once I had my load assembled. We went over to the office/lunch stand to settle up on the auction tab we'd run up.
Now, in the future, keep an eye out on your grocer's shelves for something sweet from the good folks at Two Guys Apiaries. It will be one of those plastic honey bear containers with me peering over the bear's shoulder all confused. "Hopelessly lost in the industry, but making good time."
Guy No. 2