Homemade Motorized Machines

For many years it was sport - American Football - that fascinated me and took all of my leisure time, until I had to quit because of my knee.
So I had to search for an alternative and it took a while until I found something as appealing, as pretty and with “full contact” again. 

I became a bee keeper
I always loved to watch the bees when I was taking a walk, but I never dared to go too close to a hive, since the bees had some convincing arguments not to do so. Once in a while I saw a bee keeper taking care of his little ones and most of the time I took the chance to have a talk with them.  I liked the calm and deliberate way most of them were discussing and acting.
I still remember the evening I was sitting together with a friend of mine and we were talking about bees.
The dying of bees was omnipresent in the media and even experts stumped and had no solution for this problem. That evening we decided to start together this new project as we wanted to contribute!

Like with almost all projects, it turned out that the first ideas were very different and not close to reality. We assumed, that bee keeping is a pretty simple hobby, which doesn’t take too much time, you can keep it small and contribute in the changing of the world for the better.
Ok - we knew we had to attend a training which took every given Saturday for half a year. But we didn’t know that bee keeping is an apprenticeship job and definitely cannot be learned theoretically.

Looking back I can say, that all given information at the training was pretty good but after this half year we were not even closely able to sufficiently take care of any bees - nor was any other attendee.
It is pretty complex to keep a bee hive healthy, performing and stable.  It is an own organism with about 80,000 individuals who intuitively work together in an unbelievable way and the state of the colony is changing several times a year.
But we overcame this problem and still both of us are bee keepers with about 20 hives each.

The key was our bee godfather!   I got in contact with a bee keeper who was doing that for more than 35 years and had more than 150! - bee hives. He was willing to share his knowledge - which is not granted in this business.
However, one thing was also very clear from the start: he shared knowledge and we shared work force. For three seasons we helped him to keep his team running and he taught us how to coach them.

And that confirmed that the second assumption was also wrong. During these first three years it took us one and a half day every week from March until October - so it was really time consuming.

That leads us to our third assumption, "that you can keep it small." Yes, you can, but you will most probably fail. To run bees properly you need at least 10 hives to compensate weaknesses, illnesses and failures.
In every hive there is just one queen which governs the whole colony and is responsible for the offspring.
The mind, health and aggressiveness of all bees in a hive are mostly depending on the queen.
During the summer the queen lays up to 2,500 eggs a day and she lives from 3 to 5 years.

From April until September there are up to 2,000 drones (male bees) in the hive and they have just one responsibility. They do not help to support the breed, they do not protect the entrance, they do not search and do not collect honey.
… They are just responsible for the copulation of the queen - once in their whole lifetime!
If they are not already dead in September, they get kicked out by the workers, because there is no use for them anymore. This phenomenon is called drone battle.

The third being in the hive is the worker (female bee). In spring, when the year starts, there are about 10,000 workers and the number increases up to about 75,000 in May/June. The worker does all the stuff the drone doesn’t do.
They nurse the breed, build the waves, protect the entrance and harvest the whole honey and pollen the colony needs. And it is only the worker that attacks, threatens and stings.
One information which surprised me a lot, was the lifetime of the worker, which depends on the time of their birth. If they are born between April and August they most probably do not live longer than 6 weeks. If they are born after August they live until March/April. There is no biological difference between both creatures. The bees in summer just have to work that hard that they die much earlier than their colleagues which do live from the reserves collected during the summer. This could make you think.

This bee can fly 1km (0,625 mi) in about 2 minutes and over its whole lifetime it covers a distance of 8,000km (5,000 mi). They need about 23,000 hours or 44,000 km (27,340 mi) to harvest 1 kg (2.2 lbs) honey.
I think that at least our last assumption could be confirmed. It may be just a little, but I really believe that we do contribute to our world with our bee keeping and it helps to make it better.

Why? Without the bee keeper the honey bee would not survive in our region anymore. The reasons for that are multifarious:

  • The main reason is most probably our agricultural system. There were several months during the summer that I had to feed the bees because they were not able to find sufficient nectar, almost no blossoms were available. So I had to give them sugar to prevent them from dying
  • Next to that, the chemical treatment of our acres reduces the durability of these little insects
  • The biggest threat for them however, is the varroa mite (varroa destructor). Unfortunately you have to treat each colony at least once a year to get rid of this parasite which settled in Europe and North America in the 1980s. The last year was especially very challenging in our region. About 70% of the whole population died
  • And on the top of that I explored a new enemy of them - I called him Woody

A woodpecker really gave me a hard time, and I have now a very different view toward these funny cartoons - (see the picture on the left). Over several weeks Woody visited my hives a bit too often. He pecked holes into many hives, enjoyed the honey and ate bees. I had to repair the holes instantly, otherwise the bees would had been a victim of snow and wind.
Besides that, I had some real nice experiences and explore the world differently now. When I visited the Distributech in San Diego this year a colleague gave me a hint, that there was a bee swarm in the middle of the city. This was not just a swarm, it was the mother of all swarms - the biggest I have ever seen.
And what I loved the most, was the reaction of the people. They were not scared at all. They were sitting under this tree where about 40,000 bees were flying around and were just watching them.

Over the years I invited many people and especially children to join me when I open the hives. The reactions are most of the time the same. They are pretty respectful at the beginning and at the end they totally lose their fear and put their heads almost into the hives, which is in fact also not a good idea.
Unfortunately, bees get associated with stinging most of the time but this is rarely the case. Other insects looking similar to bees are the perpetrators most of the times - like the yellow jackets.

If you are a bee keeper, you normally do not just enjoy the regular bee products like honey, wax, pollen and propolis.  As I said in the beginning, it is a full contact, and if you do not use all the protection gears that conventional bee keepers apply, you get a full contact. The bees will sting you and they do it very effectively. They smell where other bees have stung you, and pretty much attack the same spot - like a boxer they search for the weakest point.
This was at the beginning a very interesting experience - especially when 27 bees identify your eyes as the weakest area.  But it is also very interesting how the body gets used to the poison.
If you wonder if I still can feel it - YES! - I can.  But it doesn’t hurt, and doesn’t get swollen anymore. I see every sting now as a vaccination, because the bee poison is used in many conventional and traditional medical areas.

I often get asked how much honey such a colony is able to produce, and in fact the numbers are enormous if the environment supports it. If everything fits together one colony is able to accumulate more than 100 kg of honey in one year. But that is unfortunately not the rule.
In our region, which is pretty cold the 10 year average is about 20 kg per year. The last 4 years I harvested almost nothing so statistically this year should be a very, very good one - hopefully!!!

This especially changed my point of view regarding our food. I do not sell the honey because nobody would pay me the price I would expect for the work. Instead, of that I rather share it as presents to people I really like.
Right now the given world market price for honey is about 1.6 USD per kilogram  and I can tell you that I could never ever cover the costs I have incurred just to feed them. Perhaps you may think that I do not manage to get the sugar cheap enough, but right now we are a team of four bee keepers operating more than 200 hives. Last year we had to buy 5 tons of sugar and with such an amount you can get a decent discount. … at least we can make cakes pretty cheap now.

Biography:

Bernd Marte was born in Austria/Vorarlberg and studied there applied process and project management. After several years in different industries and a post graduate study in Leeds (UK) he received his Master’s degree for International Business Administration. In 2008 he joined OMICRON electronics as process keeper and quality manager. He was responsible for several internal projects, with emphasize of organizational development. In 2013 he changed to the “Adaptive Regelsysteme” in Salzburg where he got assigned for the merger and integration activities of this company into the OMICRON group. There he also took over the responsibilities as site manager and project leader until present.

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