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Busy Bees

With little labor, new hobby reaps big rewards

Usually when novice beekeeper Darrell Derstler tends his bees, he wears a beekeeping suit to protect himself from stings. On this day, he lent the suit to the photographer. Derstler leaves enough honey for the colony to survive during the winter and takes the extra honey through a special extraction process. In general, he avoids disturbing the hives. Derstler has five active hives located on the edge of a field behind his rural Richmond home. He learned about his new hobby from “Building Beehives for Dummies.” (Photo by Sara Seidel/Richmond News)

By Sara Seidel, Staff Writer

If hard work reaps its own rewards, perhaps it’s even more rewarding to get rewards when someone – or something – else does the work.

Darrell Derstler admits that his new hobby is like that.

“The bees do all the work,” Derstler said, adding that all he has to do is “make sure they have room to do their thing.”

Oh, but the rewards that will come…

Calling himself “just a beginner,” Derstler got interested in beekeeping after buying some honey in Concordia from an employee at the lumberyard Derstler owns there.

“I asked him, ‘Where’d you get this?’” Derstler said, adding that the response – from the employee’s own hives – was inspiring.

“I was hooked pretty much right there,” Derstler said.

Finding information online, he started studying. He also bought a book from the popular “For Dummies” series – “Building Beehives for Dummies” – and spent the winter building hives. He ordered bees in January from Crooked Hill Beekeeping in Chillicothe.

He selected nucleus colonies, each with a queen, a few thousand bees and the frames on which bees draw combs, where they lay eggs and store honey. 

“It’s like a head start,” he said of the three “nucs” he ordered, adding that he selected Russian honey bees, a strain that is more resistant to deadly parasitic mites.

Derstler has also gathered swarms himself. Bees swarm, Derstler said, when a colony gets too big. The queen leaves with about half the bees; the rest stay behind and nurse a new queen.

He recently collected one swarm a friend spotted while mowing his field. Responding to his friend’s message, Derstler donned his beekeeper’s suit and undertook what looks like a treacherous task.

“They were up on a locust limb,” Derstler said, playing a cellphone video that showed him shaking that limb with the box beneath it. “They just all, poof, went right in the box.”

Derstler now has five active hives, sitting on the edge of a field behind his rural Richmond home. Although the field is dotted with clover and wildflowers, bees fly up to 3 miles from their hives to forage for nectar, Derstler said.

Since this spring, the bees have been, well, proverbially busy.

The bees themselves – the drones, the workers and the queen – each have tasks. Tens of thousands of worker bees do everything except mate and lay eggs. Derstler says some serve as nurse bees and tend to the queen; some serve as guard bees and protect the entrance to the hive; some collect pollen and do little dances back at the hive to indicate newly found sources of nectar.

“They have different jobs as they grow,” Derstler said. “You can’t believe what they do. It’s crazy.”

The complete story is in the Friday, July 7, 2017 Richmond News.

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