May 20, 2012
Why bees? To be honest, I'm not sure where the fascination started but, somewhere along the way, I developed this fantasy about keeping bees. You can ask my husband, I had a complete plan of how we were going to check out and go keep bees on some fabulous piece of land along the central CA coast (or France or...). A few years into my bee fantasy, I saw the Nova documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, and that sealed the deal. I was still in imaginary bee land though, regardless how fully invested I was in the idea. It's kind of like buying yoga clothing but not actually taking yoga classes. I thought about bees (a lot) but I didn't have any bees. Steven decided to fix that. He bought me a beginner's beekeeping kit. In true to me form, all I needed was to get the ball rolling and Steven's gift of the kit got it started. Now, we have two beehives and I'm officially a beekeeper!
I'll try and give you the basic scoop without being too wordy or geeky. I decided to try two different methods of keeping bees. I put one traditional Langstroth hive out at our farm property and one top bar hive at our house. The Langstroth hive is more expandable and can produce more honey. The top bar hive is smaller and yields less honey but seemed better for an urban environment. The way you open a top bar hive is less invasive so you get less bees flying all over the place. I thought my neighbors might appreciate the difference. You also open up top bar hives less often.
The first step in beekeeping is to get all of the equipment into place (hives, hive tools, protective gear and so on). Once you get all you gear ready, you need bees, which you order from bee suppliers. In early May, we picked up our bees in Navasota, Tx. I purchased a "package", which is basically a box of about 10,000 bees and a queen (separated off into her own special cage). I also purchased a "nuc", which is like a mini hive. It has 4 frames from a Langstroth hive full with bees, pollen, nectar, honey and brood (babies) and a laying queen all in place.
(this is what a box of 10,000 or so bees looks like)
When bees are in a "package" like this, they are in swarming mode. I always thought a bee swarm sounded like a scary thing. Truth is, when bees are in swarming mode, they are not aggressive. They are just a ball of bees surrounding a queen all looking for a new pad to call home. Bees in packages are in the swarming mode. The queen is in the box inside a little cage off by herself. The bees need to get used to her and accept her, which just takes time. When you get a box like this, you have to open it and remove the queen's cage and put her and all those bees into some sort of hive. In my case, I put them into our top bar hive at home. It was cool! You spray them with sugar water to get them all happy and eating, bang the box down so they get away from the opening, pull the queen out and then (literally) DUMP all the bees into the hive on top of the queen. You have to bang the box and they are flying all over and walking up your arms...COOL! Once inside, the bees eat this little candy stopper out of the queen's cage and release her. Once she's out, life begins for the new hive.
The hive that I set up at the farm is in a little grove of trees right next to this incredible wildflower field. It's bee heaven.
The kids are excited about the whole project too. They helped me make the sugar water mixture and watched (from a distance) as I moved the bees into their new homes. Sayer already wants his own bee veil and jacket so he can stand by me while I work. Being boys, they are super obsessed with the smoker (which I actually haven't used yet).
The nuc istallation was easy- you just open up the box (the white box you see in the picture), remove the frames and put them into the new hive.
It's been a few weeks now and I needed to see if the queen in the top bar hive was doing her job and laying eggs. I have been watching their progress through a little glass side window and from the front. It's amazing watching them work away. You can see bees coming in with pollen balls on their legs and watch them build comb. It's just fascinating! Today was my first day to inspect the top bar hive by actually opening it up and pulling out frames to check and see if there was larvae, eggs, etc. I was so happy to find all the right stuff! They have built their combs, the queen is laying eggs, they have even made honey already!
(my girls, working away! This is the front entrance of the top bar hive)
Steven and Einin looked on from inside the house while I inspected the frames. I could have done this for hours but it's not good to open up the hive for too long. I finished everything up and came inside. A few of my neighbors walked and drove by while I was working. I'm not sure who actually noticed but I'm pretty conspicuous in my veil. So far the bees are really gentle. You can sit right near the entrance and watch them without anything on. Wait, I mean with no protective gear on. That sounded like I was recommending that you sit naked and watch the bees. That's a fun image but I think the neighbors really would wonder what was up if that started happening.
On a side note, I am going to need to find better bee-wear. When I came in Steven told me that, if he were a bee, he'd sting me on my butt crack because it was hanging out the whole time (harrowing thought, not the sting but the thought of him watching me tend bees with my butt crack hanging out). I'm not trying to be glamorous while working my bees but I'm not exactly trying for the plumber crack/bee lady look either.
So, that's the bee story to date...The two hives are doing well, I'm psyched and the bees are happy and, obviously, I need better pants.
PS- I'll take pictures of the bees themselves as soon as I can figure out how to do that while holding the frame of bees up. I'll either need to grow two more arms or enlist Steven's help.