Triple Fun, Challenged Finances … Life!

By Charlotte Hubbard

Editor’s Note: When we received an adorable picture of triplet beekeepers, the Martin boys of Idaho, we wanted to know more. Proud Papa Kirt shared his electronic bee journal, documenting “every action that I have taken with the bees.”

We found the journal fascinating, from both a beekeeping perspective as he experienced great success and failure, and from the back story of how beekeeping hasn’t yet provided the income he’d hoped, but instead has provided experiences that have made him a richer person.

Our back page columnist Charlotte Hubbard excerpted his journal and shared commentary. We hope you find it as inspirational, and as fun, as we did.

The journal begins simply enough, with this short (but most of us know where this is going) entry: “Spring 2008: My good friend Fred … has been telling me about his bees, since I have always been fascinated by them. He didn’t have to twist my arm much to get me into joining him on the bee journey. AND AWAY WE GO!

Kirt’s bee journal is a simple three-column document, consisting of date, event, and cost. His goal is of beekeeping was to have a hobby that paid for itself, and his second entry is a short and innocent “….supplies: $84.09.”

It’s followed by an entry a bit more breathtaking:

Bought 12 empty Deeps, 12 Shallows, all with drawn out Frames, 12 Deeps with Bees: $1800.

To most of us beekeepers, that’s a lot of money. And, as most of us beekeepers know, plenty more can follow that.

And that’s what happens. The “Cost” column of the bee journal gets a real work-out for the next several entries, including “new queens - $200”, “supplies - $52.15”, and then: “Fed 50# sugar, $18.33”—an entry repeated nine times over the next month. Ouch.

As you’d expect in any bee journal, there were various entries about splits, hive checks, and the like. By July the cost of sugar had gone up, there were four “Fed 50# sugar, $18.35.” There was also this abbreviated entry, which is too bad. If any entry should have a picture, this would be it: “Got stung on the nose.”

Another “uh-oh” was recorded in August. Kirt had left some recently purchased, drawn out frames on the tractor under a tarp for the afternoon. When he got home later, he was:

Greeted with a Cloud of Bees enjoying the feast in the sun. Drove up and down the field road like a bouncing mad man trying to get the bees out of the boxes. It took me until 9:30 to get the mess put away. DUH!

There were more entries of the expected type-finding drone layers, requeening, adding boxes, an occasional dead hive. In November (after a few more expenses), 18 hives were trucked to California.

The notations throughout Spring of ’09 were terse, likely reflecting how busy Kirt was, although it sounds like a very rewarding busy. There were several entries that went something like “Hive (x), great population, split for a nuc.”

And, there was another very positive entry: “California bee rent: $2160.”
Unfortunately, this was followed by a few more expenditures, with a red entry of “Total for the 2008 season: $973.35.”

Undaunted by the loss, Kirt continued to document his journey. 2009’s journal has substantially fewer entries, although many were notable, such as:

Picked up the 21 Frames of Shallows with honey that I had stored at Fred’s …. Left them [in the back of the tractor] covered with a tarp in the drive way over night…Left the driver’s side window open, with my bee suit in the passenger seat. I got home from work…to be greeted with a Cloud of Bees enjoying the feast in the Sun. Up and down the field driveway one more time. It took me until 9:30 to get the mess put away. Slow Learner!

Spring’s 2009’s several entries were more of expected—splitting, feeding, requeening, who helped and when and what was accomplished. But, buried amongst all the tasks and stats was this notable piece of wisdom:
Rule number one pay attention to what the experienced beeper tells you.

I wish I knew the story behind that statement!

By August, the bee journal was documenting honey yield, and included the wonderful comment: “The house did pretty well.”

While Fall of ‘09 was spent readying bees for trucking to California, there was this fun entry following beekeeping with one of his young, triplet sons:

Put Anthony in a bee suit and had him watch me transfer the frames of # 31 to a new box. Blew him away!

Forget honey yields. As parents know, helping a child find fascination is much sweeter.

Unfortunately, things were not as bright and shiny by November. The good news was 27 hives were ready to be shipped to California. The bad news was a lot of loss and a lot of work (and dollars) to get there. Concerned, Kirt notes:

I don’t like where the commercial beekeeping is going. Went online to check out natural beekeeping … [was] directed to Michel Bush, he has a great website. Have read it extensively and agree that it is the only way to go.

In March of ’10, the bees were returned from California, along with a nice rental check—a check bigger than expenses! Sure, a profit of $800 isn’t much considering all the work, but profitability is more than many of us can claim!

It was hard to see the glass as half full however, as only 11 of 27 hives survived the round trip to California … and they returned weak. Some even contained “Big A** California Cockroaches … if they get in the house the wife will kill me.”

In April of ’10, Kirt ordered 270 foundationless frames and 30 medium boxes from Water T. Kelley. I felt it necessary to share this entry as it is a nice plug for the sponsor of this free newsletter!

On June 7, Kirt noted:

Fred has been stopping in quite a bit the last few days to talk bees. He does not look good, I don’t think he feels well. Will have to have Fred help me work my bees on Thursday so he can see how I am doing and I can pick his brain.

This is followed by a short note the next day:
Lost Fred last night, he died doing what he liked, tending his bees. I am having a problem wrapping my brain around him being gone.

June entries continued with typical bee activities – splits, feeding, adding boxes, and another oopsie:
When you have bee equipment in the shop, you have bees!!!
Can’t leave the shop door open for long.

Kirt’s bee journal is predominantly a log of bee activities, however, every once in a while, other parts of life creep into it. As he notes in July:
Business has been real tough going, only 7 weeks of summer tourist season this is going to be another long winter. Come on June 2011!

He continues with:
I have been working all 7 days but coming home at least by 3:30 and taking over with the boys. At least we have a job; a lot of folks in this country do not. We are very thankful for what we have. The boys are such a gift. When I go home after a long day and greeted with “Dad’s Home!” Who am I, at 61 to have three healthy 5-year old boys? They give me purpose and the drive to make it all work.”

August 24th’s entry was another non-bee notation, appropriate because of its significance:
The Martin Boys started kindergarten today. Big excitement!

While the Martin Boys were learning numbers and letters, Kirt was again preparing hives for California. The weakened hives that had returned earlier in the year had struggled, and wax moths had made the situation even messier. As Kirt noted the end of October:
I am right back where I started the first year sending 11 to California.

But, hope springs eternal, and, upon learning in December that most of the hives had died, Kirt wrote:
We will see what comes back in the spring. Will start over with what is left.

April ’11:
The last of the bees died.

Kirt inventoried his equipment, and decided to sell everything commercial for whatever he could get for it. (Hope resides in beekeepers.) He continued:
Will start over with … all Medium equipment.

Detailed notations flow in April and May as Kirt documented beekeeping the natural way (like foundationless frames), and the joys of thriving bees. He also shared about working without gloves.
What an experience! I got stung on the hands only twice and that was when I would pinch a worker picking up the comb. Each time they would buzz first giving me a warning. I found that if I released the pressure on the bee right a way, they did not sting me. Also I got stung on the leg. Duh! Don’t wear jeans with holes in the legs. The feeling of closeness and sensitivity with the bees was incredible.

Summer of ’11 was rewarding. Not only were the bees busy making comb, honey and new bees, but another son experienced beekeeping:
Dressed up Danny in one of my bee suits, put a belt around him to keep the bees out and went for it. Dan had a ball helping Dad.

Dan became a regular entry in the bee journal, and Kirt noted in September:
He has no fear, HE HAS NOT BEEN STUNG AS OF YET!

A month later Kirt shared:
Dan is getting into it so much that I have to keep asking him to step back so I can get a frame out. I Love it. Great Dad and Son time. The first time he gets stung will probably back him up a bit.

Remember though, there are three of the lads. Andrew had his turn late October, and “he really got into it.” Unfortunately, there’s no video of the activities that inspired this late October entry:
I put all three of the boys in bee suits … It was like herding chickens.

Kirt is overwintering his hives in Idaho this year, all in medium boxes, with internal feeders, foundationless frames – all natural. He and his wife, Carol, reside in the Hagerman Valley of Idaho, raising their young triplet sons Daniel, Andrew & Benjamin, running the Snake River Grill, tending his bees and continuing the “Cooking With Kirt” projects via www.cookingwithkirt.com.

Among many other activities involving his passion for cooking, he’s producing product-cooking demonstrations in Macau and Hong Kong, China as a consulting chef for International Companies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho Preferred and Western United States Agricultural Trade Association.

His own Internet television show “Cooking on the Wild Side” can be found at MyOutDoorTV and on YouTube.

He shares:

Am excited about getting feedback from experienced beekeepers. I so enjoy sharing the bee adventure with my sons. It is wonderful Dad and Son time.

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