“Necessity, who is the mother of invention,” is attributed to the Greek author and philosopher Plato a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g time ago, 427 BC – 347 BC. His words have proven true myriad times over, and Daryl Alderman of Pilot has invented a few little things as well as adapted in creative ways.
The necessity was protection for his bee hives. “Skunks, foxes and bears love honey,” he explains. “The skunks and foxes scratch at the hives, making the bees mad enough to come out, and those sly critters block the holes with their bushy tails, ensnaring the bees. Bears, on the other hand, simply tear the hives apart, hold a frame and honey in one paw and scoop it out with the other.”
Credit a local beef producer with suggesting a cattle wagon as housing for the hives. Alderman found a damaged 20-foot gooseneck stock wagon, put in a new floor and had some welding done to replace cross beams. It can hold 40 hives with spaces between them. Bees can fly out the top, and their caretaker cut openings in the bottoms. “Here I block the holes with plastic pieces into which I drill holes just big enough for the bees, which makes them too small for mice, another beekeeping menace.”
To deter moths, yet another bee pest, Alderman started making his hive tops out of cedar wood, and now he does some of the bottoms as well. He has tweaked other things, like the frames which hold the honeycombs. “I have to rap them against something often, and it damages the wood frame. I made some metal L-shaped pieces to replace those corners as they wear down, and now that won’t happen again,” he says.
A West Virginia native, Alderman went to college in Bluefield, met and married a lady from Blacksburg and transplanted to the New River Valley. “I took a temporary job at Federal Mogul 35 years ago, and I’m still there. Maybe it’ll work into something permanent for me some day,” he laughs. Up until 18 years ago, he bought honey locally from a man who took a state job and moved away. “Where am I going to get my honey?” he asked the guy. “He suggested I get my own hives and make my own honey.”
Alderman, 64, checks his hives every day, initially walking to the back of the trailer, opening the doors, stepping inside and walking through hundreds of bees with no protective clothing. Of course, they know him well, and he’s not at all nervous about them. It’s only natural for us non-bee-people to swat when they get close, and that is when, Alderman explains, they will strike, even though it kills them [literally]. Anyone reading this might find it hard to stand still while a bee or bees fly around inspecting you. Nathan Cooke, the photographer for this article, did what any fairly normal human will do, and the bee did what any fairly normal bee will do. Yes. Nathan got stung. I got lucky and calmly walked away from the bee interested in me, per Alderman’s instruction. Of course, Alderman has been stung many times. He does not mind a whole lot, because he insists that it relieves his arthritis.
Dubbed The Bee Motel, Alderman’s cattle wagon is moved a few times a year to pollinate farm crops and pumpkins. “I need a level place to park it, and I always move it at night [when the bees are naturally inside].” For all of his modifications in housing and materials, he has found no change in the bees, the production or quality of honey. In winter, he parks The Bee Motel next to a barn on his property for wind protection, and though he loses some hives each year, he starts more.
In fact, another protective measure of his is keeping a hive on his front porch. “Really?” I asked. “10,” he smiled. He has 10 bee hives on his front porch. Guess that keeps any pesky door-to-door people away.
Some 80 percent of our food supply is available because of bee pollination.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Nathan Cooke Photography