Several months ago, Brice Stehlik called Sarge to report a swarm of bees that had taken up residence in some old box springs at RPM salvage yard outside of Cassville. When Sarge arrived on the scene, he found Brice's oldest son, Wyatt, with the swarm.
"I saw Wyatt right in the middle of them," said Sarge. "I asked him what he was doing and he said 'I'm looking for the queen, Sarge,' and I said, with that attitude, you deserve to be a beekeeper."
And with that observation, Wyatt, age 9, became Sarge's latest and youngest beekeeping apprentice.
For the past few months, Sarge has been working with Wyatt and Brice to establish a hive on the family's property. The bees seem to be thriving under Wyatt's watchful eye.
Every few days, Wyatt goes out to the hive to make sure his queen is still alive and producing brood eggs.
A hive consists of three wooden boxes, called supers, which are filled with removable frames of honey comb. A fourth super is placed on top of the hive and that box becomes the "honey super," where extra honey is stored.
The frames are also where the honeycomb forms and the honey is stored. The vast majority of the eggs laid by the queen are fertilized eggs that produce female worker bees. The unfertilized eggs become drone bees, whose purpose is to mate with the new queens and fertilize their eggs.
On average, a queen bee can produce 1,500 eggs a day during a two- to three-year life span. By contrast the busy worker bees live only 45 days during the height of summer.
"They just wear their wings off and die," said Sarge. "You have bees dying every day. That's why you need to check the hives."
Wyatt said he wanted to learn about beekeeping because he "just likes it." He said he isn't at all afraid to be around the bees and has only been stung one time.
When Wyatt works with the hives, he wears protective clothing like any other beekeeper. His greatgrandfather, Herschel Stehlik, helped finance the purchase of a beekeeping suit and veiled helmet, which help Wyatt defend against angry bees.
Smoke is another method of warding off bee stings. Before manipulating the hives and removing the frames, a smoker is used to help calm down the bees. Smoke produces a feeding response because the bees think their hive is on fire. The activity keeps the bees busy so they are less interested in defending their hive.
To Sarge, finding youngsters with an interest in bees is paramount to keeping the art of beekeeping alive and well in the Barry County community.
"I like to get people started, because there are no more beekeepers," said Sarge. "It used to be everyone had a couple of hives. We really need young beekeepers.
"Once you start beekeeping, you just get hooked," added Sarge. "I am 90 and I began beekeeping when I was 10 years old. I'm still learning after 80 years and I'm still fascinated by bees."
It is this fascination that Sarge has passed along to Wyatt. Last week, the youngster was presented with a framed certificate from Sarge, giving Wyatt the title of Beekeeper Apprentice First Class.
The certificate reads, "Under the tutelage of Supreme Master Beekeeper Richard "Sarge" Carney, Wyatt has successfully demonstrated outstanding knowledge of beehive maintenance, swarm suppression, drone popping and queen identification."
Wyatt's hard work won't produce a harvest of honey until next summer. According to Sarge, it takes a year to create the combs.
"A bee has to consume 14 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax," said Sarge. "One super can produce 60 pounds of honey. This year, I have hives that are producing 120 pounds."
Sarge said this year's wet weather has produced fields of white clover, a favorite of bees. These little creatures are known to travel as far away as seven miles to find nectar, which eventually becomes honey.
"It's the most efficient operation on the face of the earth, and it's been in business since the beginning of time," said Sarge. "It's up to young beekeepers like Wyatt to keep the business going."