Old Henry and the Painted Hives

Old Henry was a beekeeper. Well, actually he was a farmer who also had bees. He kept a couple of hives along side the barn where they got sun most of the day. Henry lived in Western Massachusetts in a little town called Clarksburg, in the county of Berkshire.

Henry got his first beehives and all the fixin’s from the same place most everyone relied on for the things they didn’t make themselves, and that was Mattie’s general store. Mattie had the one and only Sears and Roebuck catalog in town. People would place their orders and in four to six weeks it would arrive, either by train, or through the US Postal Service. The general store also served as the post office.

Anyway, Henry’s hives and bees both arrived and Mattie rang him up to have him come get them. It was in the spring which was one of the busiest times on the farm with plowing and planting and calving to do, so Henry didn’t have time for painting or building any fancy stands for the hives. He set them on a few stacked up boards to get them off the ground, put the bees in, and that was that. He would put empty honey supers on, and take full ones off. Over the next few years, Henry got a few more hives, caught some swarms, and sold some of his extra honey, but he never got around to having enough time to paint those hives. The wood had weathered to gray and the bees were doing just fine.

There was a  teen-aged  boy named Zeke who lived just up the road from Henry. Zeke was Henry’s unofficial helper. He seemed to have a knack for showing up at the right time to lend an extra hand. Henry could always rely upon Zeke when it came time for haying, maple sugaring, or pulling honey supers and extracting honey.

One Thursday evening Henry told Zeke he had to go away for the weekend and asked Zeke to watch over things while he was gone. On Saturday morning Zeke came over bright and early and did the chores he could see needed doin’.  When he was caught up and looking for something else to do, he happened to walk past the bees hives and thought “They could sure use a good painting” After rummaging through the barn he found some red paint and an old brush and got to work.  Before you new it, those two old hives looked as good as new and Zeke gave himself a pat on the back for a job well done.

On Sunday afternoon, Henry came home and seemed pleased with all of the work Zeke had done, but when he got to the hives there were bees buzzing all over the place with many resting on the ground. He noticed the newly painted hives. At first he thought they were swarming, but many had baskets full of pollen and the ones resting on the ground were doing so because they had stomachs full of nectar. When Henry looked closer, he saw that the bees had puzzled looks on their little bee faces and then he remembered something he had read in a past issue of American Bee Journal.  The article was about how bees see colors much differently than humans do and it also said that bees can’t see the color red. Henry had his answer. The bees couldn’t find their hives. When they came back from foraging, they thought their homes had disappeared.

Henry knew just what to do. He and Zeke went to the barn and found a couple of old cans of paint. One was blue and one was white. They painted a stripe across the front of each hive near the entrance and the bees immediately began to fly in with looks of relief on their faces. Henry and Zeke both learned something new. Don’t paint your hives red or they will be invisible to your bees.



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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