Friday, January 23, 2009

Some History

As I mentioned before, I started Parker Farms in 2003 when I bought and hived twenty packages of bees. It was an interesting day. I got up bright and early and drove from my home in Ruch Oregon to Glenn California. The packages were stapled to thin boards in sets of five, about four feet long. I tried unpacking them and putting them all in the trunk, but the lady strongly suggested against it because of ventilation. They stapled them back together and I drove home with five in the trunk and 15 in the back seat of my Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (gas was cheap in those days.)

I had gravitated toward the organic crew during my research, I didn't like the idea of having to put stuff in my hives to keep them alive all that time. I read the majority of Dee Lusby's work and tried to follow her methods. I have used only small cell foundation in every hive from the beginning. I use either unlimited brood nest management or in cases of special kinds of hives, a modified version of it. I decided my standard form hive would be five or six deeps tall, the bottom three boxes being for brood and the top two or three for honey for me. The boxes and wax are kept on the hive year round. It saves storage space, and the bees keep the comb free of wax moths, free of charge, and free of chemicals.

When I learned about Housel positioning, I integrated it into my operation. I haven't really seen many fruits of it, but I don't think it can hurt anything, and it doesn't take that much effort. Interestingly enough, I think it helps me keep stuff in order when I am inspecting a hive, so, so much the better.

Being the inexperienced beekeeper that I was, I made quite a few mistakes early on. I had never seen much beekeeping of any kind, much less in person. So, when I put foundation on all the early frames, I tried to use foundation pins and also used a spur embedder with wire. I discovered the unfortunate side effect of that and a warm summer the first time I opened the hives. I nearly had a heart attack and a panic attack and an asthma attack all at the same time when I realized that in ALL my hives, the foundation had fallen out of the frames and made a huge mess. The bees didn't care much, they don't mind if the comb is all over the place, so they just went with it, but as for me, I nearly freaked out. You might even say I did freak out. It was a bad day.

Thinking back, it may have been the small cell foundation being a little weaker than the regular stuff, I don't know. I did learn a new skill. I learned how to frame loose comb using empty frames and rubber bands. I learned it well fixing the nearly 200 frames that were all unquestionably combed together.

Then I started wiring all the frames, and I started dribbling hot wax in the top bars to glue the wax in and I used a car battery to melt the wire into the wax. I did do some experimenting, I wired in strange configurations, different directions, and I tried small cell plastic foundation, but none of that stuff worked. Following some advice from other organic beekeepers, I found that the best way to do it was to use eyelets or staples, to wire the frames the regular four wire way, and to cut about 7 mm off the bottom of the foundation so that it doesn't quite touch the bottom bar. If the bees decide to connect it, so be it, but until they do that, it keeps the foundation from buckling and being wavy between the wires which was a significant problem I've had throughout the years, especially now as I attempt to remove some bad comb and replace it with foundation.

I innovated the Imrie Shim design to add a larger entrance and a landing board. I decided that bees needed upper entrances more than bottom ones, but though this is a good design to bungle the skunks, the bees seem to have problems with it. Their brood nests are rarely anywhere near the bottom of the hives. It was just this last fall that I decided to scrap that idea. The shim idea did yield some fruit when I discovered that if you turn a migratory lid upside down and put my "Parker Shim" on it, it becomes a hive bottom board which saves time because tops and bottoms are now the same thing and interchangeable. Further, BWrangler's experimentation seems to point to the bees not wanting upper ventilation. I can also see his point about the air rising through the middle of the hive and falling down the sides rather than simply going up the hive like a chimney. That idea makes sense and I'll pay attention to it in the future.

I continued building up my bees for the next few years, eventually coming to acquire nearly 70 deep boxes and up to 21 hives. But the bees never seemed to produce any honey. Looking back, I have come to believe that there was just not that much available where I was. Thus the bees never really thrived. It may also have been part of the genetic winnowing process. I was never able to make any money selling honey, I did sell a few Ross Rounds to my aunt and made a few bucks, but it was nothing compared to the massive outlay of cash I had spent on equipment and bees.

It was sometime in 2004 I think when I was given a small hive in green boxes from some hippies who lived up on Little Applegate. Of all the loses I have taken, I still have those bees, and they still have a significant amount of the large cell foundation they came on. The boxes weren't screwed together to my standards, but I'll fix them this year. They are coming apart at the joints.

I had one large hive from the start. They seemed to grow at a fairly rapid pace, faster than the rest. Before long, they were up to five boxes. When I brought them to Arkansas, they died. Oh well, they were violent little cusses anyway.

In 2005 I moved to Bentonville Arkansas to be with my then future wife who worked at the Wal-Mart home office at the time. From New Year's Day 2005 until April 30 2007 I had no contact with bees at all. I did come back to Oregon Christmas 2005 and loaded up three deeps in the trunk to use in the future. It wasn't til we moved to Springdale in 2006 that I finalized plans to start beekeeping again. April 2007 they showed up, a five frame medium nuc from FatBeeman. They came on small cell foundation which I think was a big benefit. They quickly outgrew their single deep box and may have swarmed. I tried my best to get them into more equipment but it was hard with the limited amount of stuff I had with me. They now are my most successful hive, though I think they are severely limited by their inability or unwillingness to move their brood nest out of those original frames. They do produce honey, in fact I got all of last year's honey from them, but I don't think they are reaching their potential. I plan to split them this year, and force them off those medium frames by simply taking them from the hive all together and starting a new hive with them.

In August of 2008, I went to Oregon with plans of renting a Uhaul and bringing back as much equipment as I could. While I was there, Dr. Watson, the guy who was essentially taking care of my bees suggested I build a trailer and simply haul all the bees back. Unfortunately by this time, there were only five hives left, and now after the big one died, there only four, leaving me with only 20% of my original hives, the standard loss rate when switching to organic beekeeping. Dr. Watson is a great guy and very accommodating, but he just had no dedication to organic methods, or any of the other methods I use. I can't fault him for that, he just doesn't do it my way and I refused to let him treat the bees no matter how "natural" the treatments were. As an aside, my view is that if it is a treatment, it is not in any way natural, no matter what it is. So with the help of my father, I built a little 4x8 foot trailer, screened tops and bottoms for the hives, and loaded them and a rototiller, some plants, my table saw, an extractor, and as much equipment as I could. The trailer was piled well higher than the car, and I estimate it was at or beyond capacity, at least for the tires. That trailer took our gas mileage from 35 mpg to well under 20.

We loaded at sundown so as to be the best time for the bees. We left Oregon that evening and began our journey back. The trailer performed superbly, but I had screwed up, I had missed the bottom board of the big hive when I screwed all the hives together for shipping. The hive slid off the bottom board and left the bees to escape, spreading bees across seven states. It may have contributed to that hive's collapse, I don't know. They seemed fine during inspections shortly after. I did manage to get the hive slid back on to the bottom and blocked it in with some wood, but it was never perfect. I also ended up spending almost twenty bucks on some Gorilla glue tape to tape up some of the cracks between the boxes. We traveled all the first night, all the next day, and spent the night in Rock Springs Wyoming in a bridal suite because every other room in town was filled with construction workers who were ironically building new hotels. That particular stretch was very hard, I was feeling down because of the things I hadn't done on the trip, and I was extremely frustrated because I couldn't stop the bees getting away. We traveled all the next day, and the next night arriving back home in Fayetteville Arkansas around 4 or 5 AM. I called up Brian Bailey as soon as I dared the next morning to help me unload them and place them on the bases I had hastily built for them.

So there they have been sitting since then. I did lose that one hive, and a couple of the hives have shown a marked lack of stores this winter so I have been doing my best to feed them honey and sugar syrup to keep them alive until they can build up this spring. I have big plans this 2009. Yes I can right?

There is one important thing I have to explain. I am a Christian, and a long time ago, I dedicated my bees to God. Our deal is that if he wants them to be successful they will be, and if not, they won't. So this business is not so much me trying to run a business, as him being my patron if you will. It's his way of reminding me that he's in charge.

I think I'm better at writing history than philosophy.
Sol Parker

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parker Farm Products

At this point, Parker Farms consists of one product., honey. I sold out all my honey from last year. So at this point, I have nothing to sell, though I hope to be able to sell some honey later in the year.

Last year's honey was excellent. It was the best I've ever tasted and I'm not saying that to try to sell it. It was really awesome. I've seeded my property with clover so the bees always have access to that, but there is also a peach tree in my neighbor's yard. When the peaches fall and rot, the bees collect the sweet juice. This gives the honey a kind of a hint of peach wine (not fermented of course, honey doesn't ferment.) At least that's what happened last year. It was excellent honey, very light in flavor, texture and consistency, and everyone who tasted it loved it.

I'll be offering honey if I get any again this year. I will be focusing on building up hive numbers so honey production may be low overall. However, with constant supply of nectar, and fast growing bees, we might have some of the good stuff.

Welcome to Parker Farms

This is a start up blog in which you can follow along with the stuff I'm doing. I encourage you to add your ideas, or comment on mine.

I started beekeeping in 2003, I started with 20 3 lbs packages from Koehnen's in Northern California. They have been kept completely chemical free (including the non-poisonous kinds.) They have been kept on 4.9mm foundation for the entire run except some aquired along the way who are still in transition.

I practice what is known as unlimited broodnest management, more or less like Dee Lusby in Tucson AZ. She has been my inspiration for most of my beekeeping ideas.

I am building a double wide hive currently. The idea is borrowed from BWrangler, he calls it a long combo hive. Check out his site. The hive consists of a single bottom hive body that is twice as wide as normal upon which is stacked supers. This is a completely new idea for me this year, keep watching for updates.

This is my farm, this is my business, I am a college student so bear with me as I get this blog going and attempt to escalate and expand my business this year.

See ya round.
Sol Parker