The Putler Family
My great-grandfather had honeybees in his orchard. I heard the stories many times growing up from my Grandma Eloise. How they used honey to sweeten everything during the Depression and then during World War II. My grandmother was appreciative of having the natural sweetener during all those years but she had no desire to have her own bees. Neither Phillip nor I had any first hand experience with honeybees and honestly never imagined we would.
Ever since we were married, Phillip and I have always had a garden and preserve as much of the bounty as we can. Like most gardeners, we expand it every year. In 2010, when Jack and Luke were 3 and 2 we added to our repertoire pastured poultry for meat (that we process ourselves) and free-range hens for eggs. We think it is important to develop a good work ethic in the boys and involve them as much as possible in what needs to be done. We also want to provide them with great food that we don’t have to second guess. In 2012, we started making honey whole-wheat sandwich bread to replace store bought. As you can imagine we started going through honey. We started thinking about honeybees…
On our own though, we would never have been confident enough to expand into beekeeping. The biggest contributing force was a good friend of ours, William Bockstahler. His father had been a beekeeper for over 70 years and passed on a love of them to him. Bill knew we tried to be as self-sufficient as possible and enjoyed raising our own vegetables and chickens; he had been encouraging us for years to get our own hive and offered to help with any questions or problems we had.
We are the type of people who will look for and consume as much information as possible when we start something new and have learned a lot about honeybees in various ways. Reading How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey, attending local presentations by the Indiana Beekeepers Association and the Audubon Bee School have been invaluable. Of course the Internet has been a wonderful tool that brings information and pictures to your fingertips at a moments notice. The people at Walter T. Kelley are also incredibly friendly and extremely knowledgeable whenever we have had a question.
All of the above helped us to learn about bees, but they are not the reason we still have bees. We are indebted to William Bockstahler for being “on-call” to come out to our house to check something out or give us advice on what to do. Books and information are all very helpful, but if anyone were thinking about getting started with honeybees my best advice would be to find a veteran beekeeper to be your mentor. Nothing can replace the reassurance of having someone at your elbow sharing their own experience when they have been in your shoes.
Phillip and I, not knowing anything prior to this year, planned on having just one hive. Several veteran beekeepers encouraged us to have two hives in what appears to have been great wisdom on their part. Somewhat reluctantly, we ordered the two packages this spring and both hives were doing well. Then we lost a Queen in one of the hives. It was late spring and Bill made some phone calls and we decided to combine our two hives. Everything went according to plan and then several weeks later we lost the second Queen. It was now the end of June and we were desperate without a Queen. We drove down to Clarkson, KY to the storefront of Walter T. Kelley and picked up a new Queen. This is where we met some of the great Kelley employees in person. They spent close to an hour speaking with us and giving us advice.
We drove two hours one-way to provide an escort to a Queen and some Workers in a box about the size of a lipstick tube. We had some stops to make on our way home so they were able to do a little shopping with us!
Our one large hive is doing well now and we are hoping to get some honey from the fall flow. We haven’t been keeping bees long enough to have much experience with equipment. We did purchase a frame holder at the Kelley storefront in Clarkson while we were getting our new Queen. It has been very helpful during our hive checks.
In talking together about what to write we both would like to make clear how much we have learned from this experience. We now know how much we have to learn. Maybe someday the honeybees will be finished teaching us, but judging from what we have heard that will never be. Keeping bees is not like keeping livestock. Not even close. We knew they pollinated plants but had no idea how integral they were to the ecology of the world. We also had no idea how fascinating and rewarding the honeybees would be. The whole family loves having the hive in our backyard and could watch them for hours. We look forward to adding to our one hive and to the journey before us.