Monday, April 19, 2010

Beekeeping for Dummies

We’ve got a new project at our house, or should I say, yard?  Beekeeping!  Here is a photo of our very first two hives: They are located in the “Cat Garden” which, as many of you already know, is fenced off with special prison-yard-like fencing to keep our cats from roaming the neighborhood; it also keeps them safe from cars and other animals.  The same fencing will protect these hives from such predators as raccoons who, apparently, love to eat bees and will raid a hive if they find one.
It’s also fairly well sheltered from the infamous Benicia breeze and the large birch tree will provide shade in the hot summer months.DSCN4338 We took these photos the day after the hives were installed.  They are owned by a beekeeper by the name of Roccus (not sure of the spelling, and you pronounce it with a rolled R sound – he is from Lithuania).  Roccus will do all the work necessary to take care of the hives as well as collect the honey, while we simply provide a location for them.  Roccus has also offered to teach us as much as we want to learn about beekeeping. When Roccus brought the hives in the back of his truck they were just empty boxes.  The bees were in separate wired containers.  Once the hives were in place, using a smoker to calm them, Roccus simply dumped the bees into the hive, added the queen, and then placed the lid on top.  I got to manage the smoker which I pointed mainly at the little slit at the bottom of the boxes.
It was late in the day so the temp was cool, which causes the bees to slow down, and the smoker was doing its job, so Mike and I didn’t worry about not having a “bee suit” and Roccus, though he was wearing the suit, didn’t put on the netted helmet part of it.  Roccus got stung a couple of times but he did have his bare hands on the cages and hives, and he hardly seemed to notice the stings.   Mike and I didn’t get stung at all.  We just moved slowly and if a bee landed on us we simply waited for it to fly off on its own or gave it a very, very light nudge.  It’s surprising how unscary it was to be in the midst of a big crowd of flying bees but we could tell they were pretty calm so we stayed calm, too!
The queen bee and the thousands of worker bees were recently purchased via mail-order and don’t know each other yet.  So the queen bee was in a tiny wire cage with a “candy” plug at one end.  Over the next few days she will eat her way out of the cage.  During that time she and the bees will become familiar with each other’s scent and they’ll all be willing to set up housekeeping together.
Already, the bees are busily learning their way around our yard and the surrounding neighborhood, searching out the best nectar and water sources.
I don’t mind admitting we’re pretty fascinated with them!  I love to stand out there near the hives and listen to the humming, and watch the bees flying in and out.  I also had to run right over to the library and check out a couple of books on basic beekeeping so that we can learn all about what’s going on inside those hives!The cats were interested, at first, in the new addition to their garden (that’s Scout, in the photo above), but it wasn’t long before they were just ignoring the hives and their occupants.
If all goes well we will get two more hives in the next couple of weeks.  Roccus has promised us 6 pounds of honey per year from each hive, in return for providing the space for them. 
Seems to me we’re getting the better end of that deal!


J. Frankenstein Lutes said...

This is way cool. I didn't understand at first what Roccus got out of it, but I guess you can't just have a hundred bee hives in one spot. They'd fight or run out of nectar or something. Is that right? They gotta be spread around?

Deborah said...

Yep, that's right! Plus, the honey tastes different depending on what kind of flowers are prevalent in the area. Oh, AND, some people say you can reduce allergy symptoms by eating a couple tablespoons of LOCAL honey, since it's made from the very blooms that cause your symptoms. Interesting, eh???

J. Frankenstein Lutes said...

That is SUPER neat! I love learning things like that. It makes sense that honey would taste different depending on the foliage though. I mean, different ingredients are gonna make different honey.

Oh yeah! This reminded me of the bees that set up shop in my Mom's attic a couple of years ago. They were buzzing about and being a menace so we had to hire an exterminator to come take care of them. Here's the thing, after the exterminator did his spraying the outside of the house looked like a miniature bee battle ground with hundreds of victims. Our house oozed honey like it was bleeding out of it. I got a pretty intense picture of it.

Warning: these may be disturbing to an adoring apiarist.

Susan said...

Love the hives! So cool!

Deborah W said...

Oof, J Frank, intense is right! Bees can definitely be opportunists; and why it's important to keep an eye on the hives and remove some honey periodically or the bees will try to find more room somewhere else. Bees in the wild do the same thing; which is why they sometimes end up in attics, chimneys, etc. But don't feel TOO bad for the dead bees; they only live about 6 weeks total anyway. Can you imagine your entire life going by THAT fast???

J. Frankenstein Lutes said...

Ha ha! Good point! I guess I'd want to spend my time flitting around and smelling the roses too!

Ramil said...

Your blog is so cool, it helps me know what best for my bees and where beehive can be put that is accessible from different flowers that bee can helps themselves and that the taste of honey will be different too. Thanks for sharing your knowledge to us and I really appreciated it. Keep it up.