At the Best of the Bees Apiary, beekeeper Rick Messenger, of Sedalia, has been devoting his time, the last three years, to building up his four hives of Italian honey bees. He said he’s found them to be intelligent creatures deserving of respect, and credits his new knowledge to a spry local beekeeper.
Messenger became interested in beekeeping while at a Show-Me Crafter’s meeting at State Fair Community College when beekeeper Bruce Bird gave a demonstration on honey extracting.
“And I thought that looked pretty cool,” he said. “And then I signed up for a class because he was also a beekeeper instructor at the college.”
A Bee Mentor
Besides the class he attended, Messenger attributes much of his knowledge to local beekeeper Bob McCarty, owner of Pettis County Honey, who became his “bee mentor.”
“He only lives about two miles from here,” said Messenger, who lives on state Route O. “He has a vast amount of information, just unbelievable information. I can’t sing enough praises for him.”
McCarty, 83, who is about 5-feet six-inches tall and 90 pounds, has been a beekeeper for more than 30 years. Recently Messenger called McCarty to help him gather a rogue or feral swarm of bees from the yard of Joe and Shirley Horacek in Sedalia.
“A lady called me and said she had a swarm, and asked if I was interested in coming to get them,” Messenger said. “So I said, ‘well I’ve never done that — let me call my bee mentor and we’ll see.’”
Messenger placed the call and McCarty agreed to go along. He said he loves to watch McCarty work with bees and share his knowledge with others such as the Horacek family.
“He’s such a cool person,” he said. “When you catch a swarm, if it’s low enough, you grab a hold of the branch they’re hanging from … and then you jerk it just as fast as you can. And all the bees fall down. We get the bees shook down and Bob says we need to locate the queen. The queen, to the untrained eye, is just a little bit larger. He finds the queen and he picks it up and he takes this queen over and shows it to them and says ‘this is the queen bee’ and gives them all this information.”
As they worked to get the bees into a Nuc box to transport back to Messenger’s apiary, McCarty shared some bee wisdom. He explained that when gathering rogue bees it’s best to know the size of the swarm whether it’s baseball, softball or soccer ball size.
“He said you want it at least softball size,” Messenger said. “He’s never steered me wrong yet.”
Once home, he placed the bees into a larger box in hopes they would survive.
“They are still alive and that’s been probably a month ago,” he said.
With the rogue bees, Messenger has five hives. Each hive is its own community, operating on its own; leaving the others alone.
Messenger has found honey bees to be highly intelligent and he is fascinated with their behavior.
“They all do a dance, that is how they communicate,” he said. “But what keeps them in their individual hives is the scout bee goes out and finds the flowers and he comes back and does a certain dance. What he’s communicating to the rest of them is how far away it is, and how big it is. Then they all go out to the field to gather the nectar and the pollen.”
Messenger said the scout bees go in different directions and then each comes back with information. All the bees understand by the dance where the best and largest place is, but also remembers where the other less desirable areas are so they can harvest from them at a later date.
“One bee may say ‘I have a half an acre of alfalfa,’ and the other one may say ‘I have an acre of black locust,’” Messenger said. “So they pick the one that has the most. They are very communicative among themselves.”
During the summer Messenger said there should be 50,000 to 60,000 bees in each hive.
Lonely Queen Bee
“And one lonely queen,” he added.”The queen lays between 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day in the summertime. They could be workers or drones. We don’t want it to be another queen, then they’d fight.”
If the queen is killed, dies or become incapacitated another queen must be introduced for the hive to survive.
“Queens are viable for three to five years,” Messenger said. “Generally speaking most beekeepers replace their queens every two to three years. Because by the third year she’s maybe laying 400 to 500 eggs a day, and that’s not really enough to sustain the colony.”
When a new queen is introduced to the hive the colony doesn’t like it, but they go through a acceptance process.
“The best way to do it is you go in and locate the queen and kill her — it’s evolution,” he said. “And you let the hive go for two or three days. They don’t fly outside the box because they don’t know what to do.”
Messenger said he buys queens for his hives because he’s not good at raising them.
“There’s quite an art to raising them,” he added. “When I get a queen it comes in this little box. And then there’s a cork in here, and you take the cork out and replace it with a miniature marshmallow.”
The bees eat their way through the marshmallow releasing the queen. During this time they have become accustomed to her pheromones and accept her into the colony.
The queen lives below the rest of the hive in the brood box but her “royal attendants” see to her needs.
“The queen does no work, she does absolutely nothing except lay eggs,” he said. “So they feed her and take care of her. She’s a laying machine.”
Although bees need sunshine for flowers to grow, sunshine isn’t allowed inside the hive.
“The hive is very dark all the time,” Messenger said. “The bees do not like the light in their house. They will patch every crack, crevasse or hole. The outside temperature can be zero but the cluster around the queen will always maintain 95 to 98 degrees. The rest of the hive might be 20 degrees cooler. The way they keep the hive warm or cold is by flapping their wings.”
Bee a Honey
Messenger said the honey his bees produce is made from wildflowers, garden flowers and clover surrounding his rural home.
“I don’t actually grow any particular flowers for them,” he said. “Bees will forage for three miles in every direction. They like clover and clover is probably the most popular. White clover or yellow clover and the black locust is good. They are attracted to spearmint and we have spearmint planted in back.”
The honey produced from his hives is a light variety and he said he’s found most people prefer lighter honey. To accommodate customers he sells a variety of jar sizes.
“I have six, eight, 12 and 24 ounce jars,” he said. “These are all net weight. An interesting fact is honey has a higher viscosity than water, where a gallon of water might weigh eight pounds, a gallon of honey will weigh 12 pounds — it’s denser.”
Messenger harvests his honey in August or September and usually gets 30 pounds per super. Last year at the Missouri State Fair he won fourth place for his honey and he plans to enter again this year.
Honey is sold from his home but he also takes it to the Show-Me Crafters shows twice a year in March and November and to the SFCC Christmas show. Messenger also sells beeswax and makes beeswax lotions, lip balms, soaps and salves.
For more information call Best of the Bees Apiary at 827-4489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.