By Ed Colby
Eighty-Sixed In the Almonds
That redheaded Tina got in a little over her head when she volunteered to re-structure the Colorado State Beekeepers Association (CSBA) Master Beekeeper program. Other states run big-budget programs through their universities, but we don’t get a nickel from the state of Colorado. Tina quickly learned how challenging it can be to set up a comprehensive beekeeping instruction program on a shoestring. “I’m stressed out and losing weight,” she confided.
“Well, take it easy, would you?” I said. “You’re no good to me dead.”
You have to keep things in perspective. But as president of the venerable Colorado Beekeepers, I appreciate Tina’s never-flagging efforts. She hangs on like a pit bull. “I never, never give up!” she defiantly proclaimed.
CSBA budgeted $1,000 to send Tina to the Western Apiculture Society meeting in Boise in August so she could rub shoulders with a bunch of master beekeeper gurus. When we approved the money, I warned the board that Tina could be cheap. She showed us. She didn’t even rent a room! She stayed with local beekeepers, drove, not flew, from Durango in her ’94 Volvo wagon. Her total expenditures for her five-day adventure: registration, $175; gas, $246; food, $100; total $521. I am not making this up.
Mere minutes ago, as I sat here banging out his poor epistle, the gal Marilyn came rushing in. “Quick, get your gun!” she cried. The cutest mother skunk got into our hen house and chomped Marilyn’s four three-week-old chicks. You could see one tiny set of chick legs back up in the corner where the skunk had trapped herself. “I can’t watch,” Marilyn said.
Nobody tells me anything. Out of the blue, Marilyn just bought a used food trailer, from which she intends to sell coffee and breakfast pastries. I had no idea, until some woman called wondering when Marilyn was going to pick up her purchase. We went over for a look this morning. Once we get some air in the tires and find the right ball hitch, we can tow it to Marilyn’s house. The trailer has dainty little alpine flowers on it painted by the former owner’s Polish wife. It needs some TLC. Marilyn has a business plan, sort of. I’m trying to be a good sport.
Speaking of business plans, mine took a blast of number four buckshot when I got cut off from sending my bees to the California almonds. For the past few years I’ve shipped bees to California in November with Paul’s and Derrick’s. The bees spend the winter out there and go into the almonds in February. It wouldn’t be cost effective for me to hire my own truck for 100 colonies when a semi hauls 464. In the past, Paul tucked me under his wing and let me share expenses on one of his loads. Once the little darlings got dropped off in the Land of Milk and Honey, Derrick took charge, and I got to take the winter off. My colonies returned in March, generally full of bitter almond honey and bearing a nice paycheck. Nothing like kicking off a new season with some financial capital and colonies begging to be split!
I got sideways with the bee broker in California, a gentleman responsible for leasing thousands of hives to almond growers. He arranges contracts with the growers and tells Derrick where to put bees and how many. So the broker is the kingpin. I’m a bit actor in this huge production. Or was, because the broker recently informed me that my bees are no longer welcome in his operation.
It wasn’t the bees’ fault. I shipped strong, healthy hives. This had everything to do with bee politics and maybe a touch of lingering bad blood. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
I’ve known the broker for 25 years. Until recently, we got along fine, or at least I thought we did. But now that my little darlings are apis non grata, what’s a poor sideliner to do? Even if I found another broker interested in dealing with 100 colonies, I’d still have to somehow get them to California.
They say one door closes, while another opens. There are a thousand ways to make money with bees. I can over-winter colonies here in Colorado, but in March, Colorado bees don’t look like their cousins just back from California, bustin’ out of their boxes and getting ready to swarm. I’ve always been able to cover my annual losses with California Spring splits.
Seventy might be the new 50, and I suppose it could be, if you retired, took long walks in the park with your sweetheart, rode your bicycle and faithfully attended yoga class. Lifting heavy objects like brood supers is not a recommended senior activity. Maybe at 71 it’s time for this beekeeper to cut back and slow down. I could sell some bees, and then they’d be somebody else’s problem. What’s the point of charging full speed into a brick wall? One serious back injury, and I’d be done. Maybe getting eighty-sixed from the almonds is a wakeup call. The Good Lord works in mysterious ways!
As it stands, my options are wide open. I’m just not sure what they are.
Ed Colby practices beekeeping in Aspen Mountain, Colorado, where he lives with his partner, Marilyn.