Bees flying

2014 New Year’s Resolution: Keep a hive of bees!

 

Happy New Year, Reader, and what a perfect time for our thoughts to turn to the bees. :)

These past weeks, I’ve received a surprising number of emails and phone calls from those lucky people who received beehives for Christmas. And I must say, what a terrific gift idea! And for this very reason, next Christmas I plan to offer TwoHoneys gift certificates.

So, here are my January and February suggestions for those of you looking forward to your first season with bees:

  1. READ!
  2. Beekeepers are a smart bunch, and they read, read, read.
  3. Devour everything on Michael Bush’s website. Devour every word and image.
  4. Alternatively, buy Michael Bush’s book…same information…the website is free, but the book is more organized.
  5. Read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. WHICH IS NOT FOR IDIOTS! This book is written for smart people by two very smart people.
  6. Join the beekeeping forums through which beekeepers from around the world become friends and share knowledge: Beemaster and Bee Source. For some reason I can’t explain, I lean toward the crowd over at Beemaster.com.
  7. Learn the difference between Langstroth hives and top-bar hives.
  8. Don’t discount the idea of running top-bar hives. I love them. Keep an open mind about it. I implore you.
  9. I run about half Langstroth hives and half top-bar hives, though I strongly strongly strongly prefer top-bar hives for backyard beekeepers or urban beekeepers or older beekeepers or young beekeepers or physically-challenged beekeepers or female beekeepers or short beekeepers.
  10. To learn more about top-bar hive beekeeping, please read Les Crowder’s Top Bar Beekeeping
  11. If you’ve determined that you’ll run Langstroth hives, Reader, I STRONGLY encourage you to run 8-frame, medium-depth equipment. This is a rather new practice, so if you’re not keeping up with the reading, you’ll probably follow the old path. And it will take you years to work your bees out of the old-thought system and into the newer one.
  12. I also STRONGLY encourage you to let your bees build their own beeswax foundation. In other words, don’t purchase any type of foundation for your frames. Your bees will respond exuberantly. And exuberance cannot be overrated.
  13. Once you’ve finished your first reading list, feel free to contact me. We can decide where to keep your hives and how to get your bees.
  14. In Ohio (which is where I live), we order our bees in February.
  15. The bees arrive mid April, which is when we need to have our equipment in place and our tools in order.

There. That should get us all started into the new year, yes?

Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping

So You Want to Be a Beekeeper

My friend Wendy is thinking about keeping bees. So are my friends Heidi and Anne. So is my friend Liz. So is practically everyone I know. Frankly, every day people ask me how they can start keeping bees.  Perhaps it’s time I compiled these details in a single spot.

Almost everyone I know is drawn to beekeeping because they want honey. That’s what enticed me, too. But, after only a little while, honey becomes simply a reward for doing a good job at managing the hive…honey is the celebratory by-product of an entire experience. The bees—and the experience of observing, smelling, hearing, and feeling the colony as it lives and works and makes decisions—keep us…not the honey. And you should know this: You won’t harvest honey the first year. You may not harvest honey the second year.

So, yes, I know you want some honey, Reader.

I know you also want to improve the world. And keeping bees will do that.

What you may not yet know is that keeping bees will change you—it will change the way you think and the way you live and the way you feel.  I can almost guarantee it.

Here are some questions to consider as you embark. Your answers will determine how you’ll begin your adventure:

  1. Why do you want to keep bees?
  2. Yes, I know you want honey…but how much honey will satisfy you? Do you plan to sell your honey? Or do you need only enough for you and your family and perhaps a bit to give to friends.
  3. Where will you keep your hives (it’s best to begin with two hives…for reasons I’ll go into later)? How much room do you have for them? In other words…do you have access to a rooftop or a yard or a farm? Are your neighbors nearby, and do you have good relationships with them? Do children play in your yard?
  4. Bees do best in sun. They like to face East or South or Southeast. So, as you look around for a spot, keep those factors in mind.
  5. I like to watch my bees fly. You’ll probably want to watch yours, too. Keep that in mind as you think of a location, too.
  6. If there’s no water source nearby, can you provide a dependable source of water (by way of a birdbath or a water bowl)?
  7. How much time can you devote to your bees each week? An hour? Two?
  8. How much money are you prepared to spend? And if you don’t have $200-$300 for start up, are you handy with tools?

I’m too sleepy to write any more (I LOVE daylight savings time, but I’m still sleepy this morning) and you would get too bored with my suggestions right now, so…in tomorrow’s post, after you’ve thought about these questions for a bit, I’ll suggest ways to get started.

We’ll talk about ways to acquire your bees (packages, nucs, swarms, cut outs, splits) and which type of hive is best suited to your situation (Langstroth or top-bar hives…or variations on each).

Oh, and read. Read, read, read. Beekeepers are smart. Seriously. Begin with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz and Simon check out the veil

Getting our Ducks in a Row

The Georgian packaged bees and their queens arrive in less than a week. The California packages arrive about a week later. So, yesterday I helped my new bee stewards set up their new hive boxes.

Each bee steward has agreed to host two hives. I’d initially planned to have many bee stewards…I dreamed of bees in every yard…but something told me to set some limits. Thank God. I’ve settled on two stewards who live near me…these are people I like a lot and with whom I’ll enjoy visiting. This summer I’ll have to feed the bees almost daily, so keeping them close to me means they’ll more easily become a part of my daily routine. Because new bees require a lot of attention and food, I have a feeling that keeping these 7-9 hives thriving this summer will be a handful (for those of you doing math: 2 stewards x 2 hives each = 4 hives. I’ll keep 3-5 hives at my place).

For each steward family, I’ve ordered The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, one veil, one hive tool, and one large smoker…to be delivered when they receive their bees.  I think that’s a nice way to start off, don’t you?

This year the bees and the equipment belong to me, and I agree to oversee all management. The stewards will receive a percentage of the honey their hives produce. Next year, if the bees survive the winter, the stewards can choose to buy the bees and equipment from me and assume the management. If everyone’s happy with the way it works this year, we can also just stick with our current arrangement. If the stewards tire of the bees, I’ll move the bees to a new yard.

Liz and Simon check out a veil

 

Simon and Patti (and Molly the dog) set their hives
Eunice (left) and Burnsie (right)

 

 

A Beeyard Deal

When I got home from work yesterday, I lit the smoker, changed my clothes, and headed out to the beeyard. (I say “beeyard,” but it’s not really a separate yard, it’s simply the space where I keep the bees at the edge of the wood behind our house. I just like to say “beeyard.”) I removed the bottom 10-frame deep box because it’s a ghost town in there. The bees had not yet moved into it. There were maybe a couple of cells of stored pollen in the entire box, no eggs, no other activity, so off it went.

Then, I placed an 8-frame medium box on top of my apiary’s last remaining 10-frame deep…the one that houses my awesomely surviving Amazons and their wonderfully gorgeous queen. I replaced the top cover, and that was that. No more disturbance.

Speaking of beeyards…I think I’ve lined up an 80-acre place within a 30-minute drive of my house where I can keep a lot of bees. My friend, Michael, who is building a home on a part of the acreage, has agreed to let me keep bees there; in exchange I’ll teach him what I know about beekeeping. I’ll give him his own hives to work. So, that’s totally cool, isn’t it? If I collect any swarms or if any of my future cut-out attempts succeed, those bees will go to Michael’s place.

Yesterday, too, I ordered veils, hive tools, a smoker, and a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping for each of my bee stewards. They don’t know about their bee-steward package yet, and I think they’ll like it.

I’m thinking of naming my future honey “Amazon Honey” and my own personal future queens “Amazon Queens.”  Perfect.

 

Jerod Visits the Bees

Jerod is the first person other than me to work in my hives. He’s also the first person to visit the bees who wants to keep a hive himself…and I trust the way Jerod works, so there you go. In anticipation of getting his first hives next spring, he’s been reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, and he wanted to see into a living hive so he could identify what he’s reading about.

So, he suited up, lit the smoker, kept the smoker smoking, smoked the hives, lifted the lids, removed the frames, and inspected the bees. I didn’t touch a thing. (He also helped me rake a mound of sugar from under each of the hives…I can’t tell if the sugar is slipping out of each hive or if the bees are removing it intentionally, but the yellow jackets were going bonkers in it. Damn yellow jackets).

Before we began, I asked Jerod what he was looking forward to as he got his first glimpse into a bee hive. He said he was curious to know what it feels like to be stung, and he was curious to see if he got a little squirrely when he saw that many bees in one place. I’m here to report that although Cricket, Jerod’s dog, was stung, Jerod was not. And Jerod was as calm and soothing as could be with the bees. And the bees responded by being mellow beyond belief.

We saw bees coming in loaded with pollen, we saw drones, we saw bees eating, we saw bees festooning. We saw bee bread and capped honey and capped brood, and we saw a bee get her first glimpse of the world…she was just poking her head from her capped cell. Very cool…she seemed all eyes.

It was nice to be able to take a few pictures for you, Reader…it’s not easy to handle a camera and the hive tool and the frames of bees all at once. And those gloves don’t make it any less of a challenge.

Jerod and I are now talking about building our top-bar hives this winter.

Waiting for the Brain to Clear

Now that I’ve had a day for my brain to clear, I can offer a brief report of my responses to the 2010 Northeast Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference: It was tiring. I mean…it was three and a half 13-hour days of programming. And that’s an awful lot of exhausting.

But it was also approximately 45 hours of bee school, and that makes for a much smarter beekeeper…as soon as all that information sort of settles in, that is. Right now, it’s free floating.

Okay. Maybe I’m still too tired to give you a good reflection. I’ll do it one day soon, though, yes? Because my emerging beekeeping philosophy continues to develop, and I know you’re on pins and needles wanting to hear about it. :)

Let me simply remind you of this for today: If you buy your honey from the grocery store, it probably comes to you from China, and the bees that made it were treated with some very serious chemicals inserted directly into their hive.

If you buy your honey from a local source such as a farmer’s market or from that nice old guy at the end of the lane, the bees that made it were almost certainly treated with the very same, very serious chemicals that were inserted directly into the Chinese hives. And even though the bottle says your honey is pure honey, it’s not. It’s full of chemicals that 99% of the beekeepers believe is necessary to use in order to keep their bees alive. And I’m serious about this shit. It’s appalling.

I tell you this because I am experiencing it first hand. I have been sold (and I am still in possession of) the assortment of chemicals of which I speak. They are in my garage near the trash can. They’ve been there for over a year. Every single solitary beekeeper I know—other than those with whom I gathered this week—use those chemicals without even thinking about it. When to treat the bees is taught in beginner’s bee schools. And then everyone wonders why the bees are dying.

It’s not the beekeepers’ fault. Most of them know no other way and have not considered alternatives. But there is another way. And it’s up to a small number of curious beekeepers who naturally gravitate to research and who are hell-bent on returning to natural beekeeping (which, I admit, it a problematic term as there is nothing “natural” about beekeeping) to change the thinking of an entire beekeeping culture.

Have I whet your appetite for more? I hope so.

Here’s what you can do to help, Reader:

  1. If you want to begin keeping bees, consider the very fun return to natural beekeeping. To do so, you can start by reading the wonderfully smart and surprisingly enjoyable Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. It’s not for idiots. It’s for smart people, and it’s written by smart people whom I now know. They’re even smarter in person. The book series simply has a dumbed-down title. It’s a wonderful beginning point for those wishing to keep bees without the use of chemicals.
  2. If you already keep bees but want to stop the insane chemical applications and stop losing your bees every single winter and have healthier, faster, smaller, calmer bees, begin by reading the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. And join the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group. And read Michael Bush’s delightful website (you can find the link on this blogroll).
  3. If you don’t keep bees but you want to eat pure honey made by happier, healthier bees that have not ever been treated by UNBELIEVABLY STRONG CHEMICALS APPLIED DIRECTLY INTO THE HIVE AND INTO YOUR HONEY, then please begin asking your honey supplier to consider the above two points. Gently and gently and gently remind your supplier each time you purchase your nice jar of honey that there is another way. It’s scary and difficult to change the way we do things…we all know that. That’s why we’ve got to be gentle. But it’s also very fun to do what we all know is right. It’s exhilarating. And your local beekeepers want to do it…they simply need encouragement. And they need to see others doing it. Which is where I come in. :)

Here’s one thing I’m thinking. I’m considering the paint-free approach to hive boxes. It saves time and money, and I think it looks kind of cool, too. What do you think, Reader?