All he has to do is walk outside to his backyard and pry the lid off his beehive.
* * *
Seven years ago, Nash’s dad, James, walked into his usual barbershop for his usual cut. As he stared in the mirror, a glass jar in the bottom right corner caught his attention. It was a standard mason jar, sitting on his table at his barber’s station, filled to the brim with honey. James, having recently read about and researched the impressive life of honeybees, asked his barber where the honey came from. What he learned was this: he was a newly bred beekeeper, thanks to the help of the accomplished and retired WWII veteran beekeeper down the street from the barbershop. The barber told James to go see him. After his cut, James did just that.
“It just seemed so natural,” James said.
With the advice and connections of his new beekeeping friend, James’s hobby was finally taking flight. He purchased three hive building kits and 30,000 bees from his supplier, Fischer Bee Supplies. Nash helped from the very beginning. The two began by building the hives, a stacked series of four boxes with raised hexagons on the plastic walls — a blueprint for the bees to start building their comb off of. The bees came all the way from California in three three-pound boxes, each filled with 10,000 bees and one queen bee in a separate container.
“I had them all in my minivan and it was pretty loud,” James said. “They don’t like being in the car.”[media-credit id=25 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Nash became interested in the bees as soon as his dad brought them home. He became the beekeeping apprentice of his father: he helped him check on the hives, while observing the bees and reading Beekeeping for Dummies — basically absorbing all the information he could. He was immediately fascinated by their organized structure and dedicated work ethic.
“Being able to see these amazing engineers at work in nature is amazing. They are so efficient, like perfect,” Nash said
He sees them as more than just pests that swarm the courtyard trash cans and make freshman girls squeal. Even though he’s been stung five or six times, he agrees with his dad that their hobby as well as bees are under appreciated.
“Because there are a lot of misconceptions, I think people are a little afraid of it,” James said.
But listen to Nash and his dad talk about the dynamics of the hive and beekeeping for just five minutes, and you’ll understand what all the buzz is about.
* * *
“Beekeeping is really just being guardians,” James said.
According to the James, the phrase “busy as a bee” is valid one — but beekeepers do their fair share of work as well.
The first things they do is transfer the bees to the hives. The boxes of bees the Reimers purchase last for years on end, as the queen bee reproduces at a rate of laying 1,500 larvae a day, in her prime, to keep the hive thriving. The boxes include a corked smaller box inside that contains the queen bee, or the “VIP” bee as Nash describes her. They replace the cork with a small marshmallow that the worker bees eat through as a process of releasing and getting acquainted with their queen.
Next, all of the bees get dumped into the hive. They’re so anxious to be with the queen that they “pour out like water,” though the action isn’t quite as safe. Thus, the hive is born, and the intricate life of bees begins.
Bees are hard workers from birth which is Nash’s favorite quality about them. They spend the first two weeks of their lives as nursery bees, cleaning out the comb they were born in so it can be used again. Next, they work as hive bees. They meet the forager bees, the ones that go out and get the nectar and honey, to transfer and process what they brought back and turn it into fresh honey. In the final stage of their life, bees act as foragers. Foragers travel up to six miles in any direction, make six to eight trips a day and have to make two million flower visits to produce one pound of honey.
Foragers also perform what beekeepers call a “waggle dance”, where they fly and spin in circles to describe where resources or enemies are in relationship to the sun.[media-credit id=25 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]In total, the Reimers have eight hives; one in their backyard, two in Liberty, two in Butler and three in eastern Kansas City. They look for families who want to host bees on their land, which can be beneficial for farms.
A new hive has to be checked on once or twice a month, but an old one only needs a post-winter checkup to make sure the colony survived. One of Nash’s hives died out in his second year, which was disheartening. Thankfully, it was followed by a successful year.
“I was really excited when I was able to get a good harvest the next year,” Nash said. “It picked my spirits up.”
The majority of the work for the beekeeper comes in late August, which is honey harvesting time, Nash’s favorite part of his job. At its best, the hive can produce up to eighty pounds of honey for the beekeepers to take.
Nash and his dad go around to all the hives and take the top box, which is filled with extra honey that bees won’t need to survive the winter. They take it back to their basement and pick the wax caps that the bees put on to preserve the honey off of each comb, the most labor-intensive part of the job — Nash estimates there are 250 combs on each frame that are only half a centimeter wide. The empty comb is then saved to be put back into the hive so the bees can reuse it. Next, they put the frames in a centrifuge, which looks like a 15-gallon bucket with a handle on top. They spin it around for a few minutes until centrifugal force pushes all the honey out of the combs and into the container. Nash and his dad emphasise that it’s a sticky job.
“You’re up to your elbows in honey,” James said.
Finally, they put it through a sifter to make sure there’s no unwanted wax or pollen. And that’s that; the honey is made, pure and simple.
The Reimers enjoy their honey so much that they’ve replaced all the sugar in their house with honey. It goes in their tea, on their toast and in their oatmeal. It even ends up on the table in quite a few Kansas City homes. Nash sells the bee’s honey for $5 per one pound tub to family and friends and gets more customers by word of mouth. It looks the same as the honey you’d buy at the store, but a bit darker since the bees made it from the pollen from purple lilies, a commonly used flower for pollination. According to Nash, it tastes the same as store-bought honey but has the local, organic appeal. Even though making money isn’t the point of the hobby, Nash was able to collect about $250 in profits last year. He recognizes that he’s essentially stealing the product he’s then selling, and he’s grateful for it and the bee’s hard work.
“You have to be thankful for whatever you get,” Nash said.
As for the future, Nash hopes to come home from college to be able to check on his hives at the beginning of the season and later in the season to help with the harvest. It wouldn’t hurt for him to take a quick break from school to see the best engineers in the business at work, after all.