The Great Beekeeping Conspiracy

Yes, you may not know it but there is a conspiracy going on in the world of beekeeping. I should have recognized it when I first got started, and you probably should have too, but if you are anything like me, you were so excited about getting bees that you didn’t see it coming.  It finally hit me a week or so ago when I called the nearest beekeeping supplier for a few frames.

The conspiracy actually has roots going all the way back to when companies started to mass produce woodenware. Before those days, beekeepers would cut a hollow section of gum tree, set it up and put a piece of plank on top that came off the barn that was falling down. Of course, they didn’t notice the barn was falling down because they were too excited about having bees. The entire hive consisted of a stump and a plank…and a hole so the bees could get in and out. A corn cob pipe and some tobacco served double duty as a smoker. If you were lucky enough to have an extractor, it was simply a piece of cheese cloth to squeeze the honey out with, and those that couldn’t afford that expense  just ate comb honey.  Life was good and everyone was happy.

Then along comes Lorenzo what’s  his name and discovers what he called “bee-space.”  Once the bees caught wind of this, they started getting fussy. This was way before Autocad was invented so they had to buy little rulers to measure and design their hives. The bosses told the workers that all spaces had to be between 5/16 and 3/8 of an inch. Any thing smaller should be plugged up with sticky goo, and anything bigger was fair game for comb building.

Things went downhill from there. Companies sprang up to build special boxes that the bees would accept as worthy of their occupation. The old logs just weren’t good enough anymore. Along with these boxes came wooden frames or “apartments” for the bees to live in.  To be sure they could sell these boxes and frames, the companies sent high paid guys to Washington to bribe, I mean persuade the lawmakers to have all forms of bee housing banned accept their fancy boxes. This is how lobbying got started, but that’s another story.  Well, things just snowballed and all kinds of “necessities” were invented for the keeping of bees. Now you can get anything  from a bee brush, to keep their hair looking nice, to a battery powered smoker so you don’t have to tire yourself out squeezing those pesky bellows.

Last year there was a great celebration in the world of beekeeping for the 100th “birthday” of this Langstroth guy. There were parties, conferences, declarations, incantations and exclamations, not to mention great expectations.

Let’s take a quick look at the difference the discovery of “bee space” has made in the beekeeping world. Here’s a partial equipment list and cost comparison from then to now.

pre 1850:  tree log, plank, corncob pipe, cheescloth, hole. Total cost 15 cents

today: hive stand, bottom board, screened bottom board, slatted rack, two deep boxes, two medium boxes, 40 frames, forty sheets of wax foudation, 80 support pins, fourteen lbs of nails, bottle of gorilla glue, quart of primer, quart of paint, hive tool, smoker, queen excluder, queen catcher, escape board, inner cover, outer cover, feeder, medication, uncapping tank, uncapping fork or knife, extractor, buckets, gates, bottles, solar wax melter. $14,285,67.  Oh, did I forget the bees?  Add another $90 to that figure.

Keep in mind those are just the basic necessities………for one hive. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff. As we know, the guys who started the first supply companies were also beekeepers. So when a new guy or girl came along and mentioned they’d like to try keeping a beehive, the conversation went something like this:

newbee: “I heard you were a beekeeper. I’m interested in starting a hive”

old beek:  “That’s right. I also sell everything you’ll need. Ah, not that you need much.  It’s a cheap hobby. It doesn’t really take any time, and you’ll have hundreds of pounds of sweet honey to eat and give to your friends and family. Heck you’ll probably have plenty extra to sell. Did I mention it’s really cheap?”

newbee:  “So how do I build a hive and catch some bees to start off with?”

oldbeek:  laughs heartily  ” Build? You don’t want to go buildin’ your own hives. Haven’t you heard of beespace? You can’t violate that or them durned bees will make an awful mess in there. And what’s more,  you should have two hives. That way iffen one does good and one does bad, the bad one will keep you from thinking it was something you done  that made the other one do good. Don’t want to go getting a big swelled up head or anything like that the first year”

newbee:  “So how do I catch a swarm?”

oldbeek: “Now why in tarnation would you want to go doing a silly thing like  that? The queen will be old, and if they didn’t like where they was living before, what makes you think they’re going like your place any better? I can order you up a couple of packages of fresh bees at 90 or so dollars a pop. They won’t even know the queen they’re getting so that way they can all start with a clean slate”

newbee:  “So, lets say everything goes great, and I get 50 lbs of honey. What comes next? Should I get one of those little hand crank thingys to get the honey out?”

oldbee: “Heck, no. I can sell you a nice 20 frame electrically motorized extractor for a couple grand. And since you’ll only use it for about an hour a year, it should last a lifetime.”

newbee: Okay, so say things continue to go well and my 2 hives make it through the winter. In the spring I should let them swarm, and then I’ll have new queens right?”

oldbee: “You shore got a lot to learn young whippersnapper. You gotta prevent them from swarmin’.  Why would you want ’em to do something that comes natural like?  No siree, you wanna split them two hives into four.”

newbee: ” But then won’t I need lots more room and equipment? I really only wanted one hive to begin with. How many  do you have now?”

oldbee: I’m up to four hunerd en sixty five give er take a few.  Now don’t you worry yourself none. I got a piece o’ land you can lease real cheap and I have all the woodenware in stock. Got your credit card handy? Let’s see….two hive stands, two slatted racks, four deep supers…………”

Next week We’ll show you how you can raise your own queen……for a measly twelve hundred dollars.


About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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