Beekeepers are all around us. Many of them have day-to-day jobs and do their beekeeping in their free time.
Roderick May, of Neosho, is the assistant manager at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery. He’s also a beekeeper.
May got started in beekeeping at a Lions Club meeting in Granby, Mo.
“A man (Herb) came to the Lions Club to talk about beekeeping and introduced me to it,” said May.
Herb was also selling honey while at the meeting, and he explained to everyone that honey can also be used to help with allergies.
“I have always had allergies and I have tried literally everything, but I thought I’d try his honey,” said May.
After trying Herb’s honey, May hasn’t used anything else since.
According to May, just a teaspoon or two a day has helped his allergies in a way that nothing else has.
“After that meeting, Herb took me under his wing and taught me a lot of what I know before he passed away. I think he wanted to pass his knowledge down,” said May.
When May decided to get involved with beekeeping, he joined the Neosho Bee Club as well as clubs in Joplin and Monett.
“I was that guy that went to the meeting and still didn’t have any bees,” said May.
May attended the bee meetings for about 18 months before getting any bees. When he finally got the bees, he started with two nucs, or colonies, that had five frames. A nuc is a small honey bee colony created from a larger colony.
“You get can get bees several different ways. You can get them online, find a swarm and relocate them, or buy them from beekeepers that sell their bees,” said May.
According to May, relocating a swarm can be difficult because if the queen bee doesn’t like her new home, they will leave and find a new one.
“You might go to extreme lengths to move a swarm and then within 24 hours they’ve already left. It’s very unpredictable with bees,” said May.
As much as the animated “Bee Movie” looks silly, it’s partly true, according to May. All bees in the colony have a job and as a bee gets older, its job changes.
“When the bees are still egg cells, the queen bee decides which ones will be fertilized and which will not,” said May.
The egg cells that are fertilized are girls, and the ones that are not fertilized are drones (male).
“In order to make the egg cell fertilized, the bees give the cell raw jelly. That’s what fertilizes it,” said May.
Once the bees are hatched they become cleaner bees. Cleaner bees help prepare the egg cells for the queen before they are hatched.
“Their next job is to be nurse bees and they take care of the bees that just hatched,” said May.
Another job that bees have is gathering pollen, food for the babies, and nectar.
“To gather pollen they rub it on themselves, on their sides, and that gives them the appearance of having yellow pockets on both of their sides,” said May.
“With nectar, they consume it and it goes into a nectar basket in their body. They release the nectar when they get back to their hives.”
In order to get honey from the bees, beekeepers must put sheets in the nucs for the bees to work on.
“I cover my sheets with beeswax in a honeycomb pattern and the bees release the nectar into the honeycombs,” said May.
Young bees are the only bees that can reproduce and cap the honey when it’s ready. When the nectar is put into the honeycombs, it has to be dehydrated to turn into honey.
“Some bees are ventilators and their job is dehydrate the nectar to 17 percent and then the young beeswax bees will cap the honey beeswax,” said May.
After the honey is capped it is ready to be taken by the beekeeper and turned into honey. There are several different professional beekeeping tools that beekeepers can use, but May uses an ordinary fillet knife to cut the caps off the beeswax to open the honey.
“After I have cut off the caps, I put the sheet in an extractor that spins and literally flings the honey out of the honeycomb cells,” said May.
At the bottom of the extractor is a valve that is then opened and the honey goes through that into a really course strainer that takes the big stuff out of the honey.
“I use a really course strainer because I like all the stuff the honey has in it. That’s what keeps my allergies so tame,” said May.
According to May, the store-bought honey is put through a fine strainer which takes out all of the material that is good for our bodies.
“Honey has several different ingredients in it that helps us fight infection and build immunity, and if ran through a fine strainer, you aren’t getting all of that,” said May.
After the honey goes through the strainer, it then goes into a five gallon bucket. A valve is then opened and the honey goes straight into a jar.
“My honey goes straight from the bee to an extractor, through a strainer, and into the jar. I keep it as natural as I can make it,” said May.
For May, beekeeping is a hobby, not a full-time job. He sells his honey in a pint jar for $10. To order a jar from May, call him at (417) 825-2610.
“Beekeeping is a lot harder than it used to be and can take up a lot of time depending on how many hives you have,” said May. “For me, it’s slow and methodical. It slows me down and shows me how I can’t be in a rush all the time.”
A common fear of beekeeping is getting stung. When May goes out to visit his bees, he takes along two things — a smoker and sugar water.
“A smoker does a couple of things. It messes up the bees’ attack communication and it helps calm the bees down,” said May.
May uses his smoker to calm the bees, but then gives them sugar water as a snack for letting him mess with their hive.
“I use positive reinforcement with my bees and at the same time teach the bees that they have nothing to be afraid of when I come around, because they know it’s me and I will give them a snack,” said May.
“They sting a little less when they know they are getting something out of it.”
May’s favorite thing about beekeeping is watching them build up and grow in numbers.
“It is very soothing to me to watch them and see how they communicate with one another,” said May.
May currently has 10 hives and checks up on each hive every 10 days. May has bees in town, out in the country, and all around the Neosho area.
“I put hives out per request only. I also try to keep them by grasses and trees so no one even notices they are there,” said May. “When people ask me to put hives on the farm, I usually give them some honey in return for allowing me to have a hive there.”
The bees pollinate gardens and fruit trees, and both May and property owners benefit from having the bees there.
“People tell me they can see the difference the first year I put the hives out,” said May. “It also gives me more area for my bees to forage. I like having them in several different places just in case something happens.”
One summer, however, May could not disguise a hive hanging out of a second story window in the middle of town.
“I had a lady call me that there was a beehive outside her second story window and they were getting in her house,” said May.
May had to trap the bees out of their hive and force them to move into an existing hive he already had.
“I built a one-way tube with a slit outside of my hive box, so once the bee had gotten out of the tube, it couldn’t get back in,” said May.
Once the bee was out of the slit it had the choice to either become a part of that hive or go out and find another one because it couldn’t get back to its old hive.
“I couldn’t force all the bees out at one time, so this lady had to go half a summer with a beehive box hanging out her second story window,” said May.
According to May, that is the craziest thing he has ever done with bees so far.
“I really enjoy beekeeping. There aren’t enough beekeepers in the world, we always need more,” said May. “Bees are very interesting creatures and once you start beekeeping, you’re hooked.”
May has peach trees at his home, and the year his bees were really taking off was the same year that every peach bloom was pollinated and growing extremely fast.
“Peaches are just hard in general to grow but with the bees, my peaches grows tremendously,” said May.
Beekeepers are all around you. They be a neighbor, boss, grocery store clerk or an assistant manager at a fish hatchery.