God Save the Queen
By Nikki Sue Alston
Kane Mitchell, AKA the Bee Man, is a local bee keeper out of Carlyss. I had the opportunity to go to one of his extraction calls and watch the Bee Man in action. The extraction took place in south Lake Charles where the bees had set up shop in an outdoor kitchen cabinet. The homeowner took this opportunity to begin beekeeping, so they extracted and relocated the hive into a bee box near the rear of his property.
How did you get into bees and bee keeping?
Got started fooling with bees about 2 years ago as a result of having to remove them from my duck camp every spring. One of my brothers, who happens to be a beekeeper, told me I might as well start keeping bees there since they apparently love my camp so much. At his suggestion, I set out an empty bee box with a swarm attractant inside, within a week I had my first colony start building comb and gathering nectar. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about bees and became fascinated and intrigued by the prospect of keeping bees and harvesting honey. The more I learned about bees, their culture and their contribution to agriculture and pollination in general, the more I become enamored with them. A bee colony is the purest form of communism, all activities and efforts of the bees are for the betterment of the colony. The queen rules all. All other bees, 95% of which are female, all carry out specific functions from nursing and feeding, to guarding the entrance, comb production and nectar gathering. The males, aka drones, only have one function (to mate) and then they either die or are cast out of the colony prior to winter.
What has been the most interesting experience so far in extracting bees?
Removing and relocating bees has allowed me to experience just how industrious and methodical a honeybee is. Removing unwanted bees can be challenging. You need to know a little about construction to be able to assess the best plan to open up a wall or remove a soffit to allow access to the hive in order to remove the bees and comb. So far, the most interesting extraction has involved high power electrical supply line hardware, the kind of hardware you see on electrical power lines with the coiled insulators. We had to go to a material site and open boxes that held these components and the bees were inside these coils. The bees had been there for at least a year and had amassed a pretty good size colony, probably upwards of 70,000 bees and 300 lbs. of comb and honey. The job took pretty much all of 8 hrs. to remove bees, comb and salvage around 10 gallons of honey. Another interesting removal involved a boat, where they had gone into the inner hull. There was no way to cut them out without destroying the boat, so we sealed off their entrance with a small conical bee trap. A bee trap allows bees to exit but not re-enter. Then we wrapped the boat in black visqueen and let the summer heat get the boat's temperature up past their level of comfort. They abandoned the boat in about 2 weeks.
What should the public know about bees?
The public is becoming more aware of the plight of the honey bee. Honey bee populations have declined seriously since the 1980's due to a mystery called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It is now thought that CCD is a calamity that is traced to several factors including loss of habitat, pesticides, insecticides, as well as parasites such as the Varroa Mite, Wax Moths and Small Hive Beetles. The bees need help. The most important thing the public needs to know is that killing a hive is not desirable. It is best to either leave them alone or have them humanely removed and relocated. I think another misconception is a swarm of bees is dangerous. Actually, bees are probably their calmest when in swarm mode. If a "ball of bees" is observed hanging from a branch, on a fence or even on a bicycle handle bar, they are not aggressive--UNLESS PROVOKED. Although I am far from advocating this, a person can actually put their hand on a swarm ball and feel the buzzing. The bees will not become aggressive as long as you gently shake them from your hand and walk away. In general, bees are not aggressive, unlike a yellow jacket, wasp, or a hornet. Just stay out of their flight line and they will go about their buzzy little way.
What is your favorite part of being a Bee Man?
I love swarms, catching them and shaking it into a box is fun. You always get the queen and with that, the start of a new colony. All you do is transfer them to a box with frames and they will start to work....most of the time. I always use a queen excluder to ensure that she does not decide that she doesn't like her new surrounding take all the bees away with her. Once the worker bees start building comb and the queen starts laying eggs, you have the start of a new colony. I like going back to examine hives I have set up and observe the amount of work that has transpired. It doesn't take long for bees to build a lot of comb, have brood started and honey being produced.
Do you have any fun/funny stories about bees/bee extraction/bee keeping?
I think the funniest stories about bees have to do with aggressive bees, i.e. either bees that are really pissed off or bees that have been Africanized. Africanized bees are relentless and they don’t forget anything. If you disturb or sometimes if you even get near an Africanized colony, they will come after you. Normally, bees will quit attacking you as you increase the distance between you and their hive. Sometimes it is as easy as walking around a corner of a building to lose angry bees, but Africanized bees will find you and keep after you. I have had to drive away in my vehicle, with the suit on, until I was several hundred yards from the hive before they gave up pursuit. The interesting thing is that when I went back a day later, they were still angry and began their attack without any provocation.
What is the hardest part of keeping bees or extracting bees?
THE HEAT is the hardest part of beekeeping. The protective suits, although ventilated, are still hot. Most beekeeping activity occurs in spring and summer and in South Louisiana, that means warm, muggy, high humidity weather. Of course, getting stung is not that pleasant either.
What is the most you have been stung at once?
Ha! Probably have been stung 20 times at once. Even with protective clothing, they can still get you. If your face protection gets pushed against your nose, you will get hit in the nose. They go up pants legs, and can sting through gloves given the right circumstances. I’ve heard that it takes 1,100 stings to kill a man, but if a man is allergic to bees, it can take as little as one. Also, no two bees sting the same for some reason. I have been stung and felt little to nothing but a small irritation, then get stung a minute later and it burn like a wasp sting.
How many times, in total, would you say you've been stung since bee-coming a Bee Man?
Generally, I get hit at least 1-3 times every time I put on the suit. It is very rare that I come away from checking hives or extracting bees that I do not get stung. It’s probably been about 300 times since I started. They say it helps arthritis.....I cannot confirm that.
Honey Bee Facts:
- A queen bee can live for several years. Worker bees live for 6 weeks during the busy summer, and for 4-9 months during the winter.
- Honey Bees are the greatest pollinating machine when it comes to agriculture, 1/3 of pollination relying on honey bees.
- Bee farms rent out colonies and move them to wherever they are needed in the country for pollination. The bees can communicate direction and distance from the hive to nectar sources, so they are never lost.
- Scout bees of the hive communicate information with what is called “dance language”. Even in the darkness of the hive, the direction in which a bee is dancing can be easily followed by other worker bees.
- Since the 1800s Louisiana has produced thousands of pounds of honey each year and today, queen bees bred in Louisiana are sent all over the United States to raise new bee colonies.
- Queen bees can be bought commercially to set up or “split” a hive.
- Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.
- Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors and their olfactory abilities include kin recognition signals, social communication within the hive, and odor recognition for finding food.
- The average worker bee makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
- Honey reduces healing time more than conventional gauze and film dressings that are often used to treat moderate burns.
- One teaspoon dose of pollen takes one bee working eight hours a day for one month to gather. Each bee pollen pellet, contains over two million flower pollen grains and one teaspoonful contains over 2.5 billion grains of flower pollen.
- Local bee pollen is said to be an energy enhancer, have anti-inflammatory effects on respiratory system, treat allergies, boost immune system, support cardio vascular health, as well as stimulate and restore ovarian function (may be used to assist in accelerating pregnancy).
- Local bee pollen, as well as being a hormonal booster it is also a great aphrodisiac!
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