Thursday, May 04, 2017

A Beekeeper at Last

For years it has been a desire of mine to keep honey bees. I don't know why for sure, other than that I find them fascinating and always thought it sounded like such a cool thing to do. I remember as a kid hearing the word"Beekeeper" and having feelings of admiration for whomever held that title.

As a young married adult, with a baby orchard and vegetable garden, the idea took on a more practical nuance, but there was still the original allure of having a hobby that involved insects with venomous stingers. Again, I don't know why. Maybe I haven't been stung enough times.

Fast forward a few years and I started to read stories of the decline of pollinators around the world, and like many, I assumed that Honey Bees were the primary ones in decline. I kept hearing about "hive collapse disorder" and "Varroa Mites". And I thought that maybe I could help save the bees by having a hive of my own (I will later debunk/clarify the truth behind these news stories).

So... this past Christmas, when the biggest box under the Christmas tree was for ME, and what it held was a beginning kit for starting a hive... I think I was even more excited than the kids with their new LEGO sets.

From December until May, any spare moment I got, I was reading and researching about honey bees and how to care for them. I got books from the library, found articles online, watched videos on YouTube. I took a class from Bee Thinking in Portland, which was incredibly helpful. And then I waited.

All suppliers of natural/feral/untreated bees were sold out, so I went to Coastal Farm Supply, where the kit I got for Christmas came from and ordered what's called a "Nuc" (pronounced "nuke", as in short for "nuclear"; not because its an explosive, but because it is the central portion or makings of a new hive). You can order bees in a package, which is just a cage full of worker bees and a Queen, or you can order a Nuc, which is a full-sized box with frames of comb, baby bee brood, and with food stores. Since we live in a place notorious for long and cool Springs, I went with the latter, because I didn't want to have to start out with needing to feed my bees sugar water to just keep them going.

There was supposed to be a one week notice that the bees were arriving, but I got the call the day they arrived. Being a Wednesday, I was practicing music in my living room with my bandmates, and blessedly didn't have anything pressing to do in the afternoon. Making music in the morning, picking up my bees in the afternoon... a day couldn't get much better!

The kids were understandably nervous about riding in the Explorer with a hive full of bees behind them, but the folks at Coastal were amazing and made sure there weren't any tag-along bees on the outside of the hive before loading it into the truck.

I already had the empty kit box all set up in the barnyard, thanks to the help of my Farmboy and some cinder blocks. Because the Nuc came with its own attached stand, I simply moved the empty box to the side, positioned the Nuc, and pulled the foam out of the doorway to let the bees out to explore.

I wanted to open up the hive right away, but figured I had better let them get settled first, so after sitting and watching them for a ridiculous amount of time, I returned to the house and waited awhile. When I saw that they were starting to collect pollen, I carefully opened the top just long enough to add their new upstairs addition. I didn't inspect the frames that they came with, wanting to be sure I gave them some time in their new location before I got too personal with their space.

The next day I suited up (this one), grabbed my tools, and set out to open up the hive and see what I could see. I had never been close to a hive, let alone seen inside, so all I was armed with was the pictures and words from books to guide me. The bees have been doing their thing since the beginning of time, so my philosophy from the outset is to let them do what they know to do, and intervene only on an as-needed basis if I see something that looks like a threat to the hive.

Including, if possible, not using a smoker. Yes, you read that right. When beekeepers use smoke, it isn't necessarily bad for the bees, although some would say that it is... but the reason it helps the beekeepers is that it causes the bees to go into a protective mode; they sense an emergency and start gobbling up as much honey as they can hold, in case they need to evacuate. This ensures that there is food at their new location, should the worst case happen. The smoke also masks the smells of alarm pheromones so that if one bee sends up a signal, the others can't smell it, so they don't attack.

Instead of smoke, I decided to use a sugar water solution in a spray bottle. If the bees seem restless or alarmed, a little spritz of sugar water dampens their wings long enough to keep them from flying, and also keeps them busy licking up all the sweetness from each other and the hive.

I was completely prepared to abandon this idealistic technique if necessary, but this hive was so calm and basically ignored me the entire time I was inspecting frames.

Being my first inspection, I really only was getting my bearings, trying to see if I could identify the different things happening inside. I did see capped brood and lots of worker bees with plenty of nectar in open cells. But the true excitement was spotting my Queen for the first time.

Now, if I haven't entirely bored you to tears, stay tuned, because there are sure to be many more tales from Heartstring Apiary to come in the future. I'm totally in love.

1 comment:

Patti said...

I am so very excited for you and can't wait to read more!!! I am intrigued by beekeeping, but living in the city I think it best to plant flowers that they love and leave it to the professionals :) Many buildings in the city now have beehives on their roofs. I'm hoping you might be inspired to create a few bee related designs ;)
Blessings, Patti