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In the 1920s, our parents built a brand new chicken coop. Man, what a building: brand new lumber, and modern, big windows with lots of light in the front. Three quarters of the place was equipped with a second floor about one meter off the dirt floor. Above there was row upon row of 4 or 5 cm slats for the chickens to roost on at night. The wooden floor made it easy to clean the manure away. The slats were not fastened down, the reason being that when chickens had lice, which happened often, we took the slats down and painted them with carboleum. The lice didn't appreciate this at all and stayed away for a while.
Behind all this, we had a few fruit and apple trees but they didn't last long. In no time at all, moeder (mother) and her chickens, 200 of them running all over the yard, pecked and ate every green blade of grass anywhere around. In a few years, all the trees died with the grass.
At the back of the orchard, Pa had his pets - yes, his pets - nobody disputed his exclusive rights to his bees. In a way, they were nice. They didn't bother anybody if you didn't pester them. Many times, I've seen Pa pick up a beehive, turn it upside down, look in it to see how they were coming along in their work and put it down again, all without the protection of a face mask. The only time he would wear one was when the time came to remove the honey. That was quite a procedure.
Weeks before the honey harvest time, Pa made his preparations. He got a box of zwavel (sulfur). He would dissolve this stuff in water then dip square pieces of stiff paper in it and let the paper dry. Then he would take an old gunny sack, cut a square piece out and tie four nails - one on each corner.
Now he dug a hole in the ground on a slant, about 10 - 12 cm diameter and 30 cm deep. In the bottom of this, he put a clothes pin with one of them treated pieces of paper in its jaw.
Now when the unsuspected bees weren't looking, Pa would block off the entrance to the hive (which was also the exit) with a plug of hay and slip the gunny sack under the hive and pin it up with the four nails.
Now was the time to don some protection, because the bees wouldn't like what Pa had in mind. So he tied his sleeves shut with a piece of twine so the bees couldn't crawl up his arms. Next, he put his screened in hood over his head and was ready to go.
He put a lighted match to the swavel impregnated piece of paper in the hole. This did not burn but smouldered and let off mind altering fumes which made the bees useless. I think they went on an unscheduled sleep. So when the smoke started coming out of the hole, Pa quickly placed the beehive over the opening. He tapped it with his hands so the bees which were under the influence but still hanging on would fall down. After a few minutes of this, it was safe to take the nails out and remove the hive.
Now the surprise. All them busy bees were lying on their back and on each other with feet useless in the air. And their stingers were harmlessly hidden. Hundreds and some more. We all had a look to see how much honey. It was full to the bottom - my lips started smacking when I thought of that beautiful golden honey in the comb, how sweet it would taste.
Now came the chore of removing the honeycombs. You must be careful not to damage it. Ma was ready with a big pan to carefully select the most beautiful combs for the market. The best pieces would be sold and we ate the rest.
What a beautiful site. Imagine those busy little bees building this enormous piece of art with no map, no plans, no supervisors, no light, no union and building it all upside down - starting at the top. All we had to do for those little insects was to supply them with a dry roof and they went off to work.
After Pa took all the honey, he put the hive back in place and put some sugar water in front of the hive. The little creatures woke up from their sleep and went right back to work as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Apparently, they discussed nothing, knew nothing about the devastation that took place, nothing about the future, and nothing about all the months of hard work they put in. Oh well, such was the life of one of God's creatures.
To collect all this honey, the bees need flowers, millions or more. I am sure every flower within miles was visited many times over until there was no more. Realizing this, the beekeepers looked for other, let us say, greener pastures. They found this in the form of heath on the Leusderse Hei.