Friday, March 26, 2010

Settling in

It's been about a week, and we went back to check on our bees. They seem to be settling in, although we didn't poke around in the deep to check. We want the workers to feel at home before we start really disturbing them. They were really active near the entrance to the hive, though. There is a pile of cruddy wax/debris they are busy clearing out from the frames they want to use. Bee housekeeping.

I saw a few bees with fat, yellow hindlegs- that means they're gathering pollen! A good sign I think, that they intend to sign the lease at least until winter.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Apiary Anxiety

I've gotten several emails asking if I'm scared yet or stung yet, or done with this craziness yet.
In response:

I haven't ever been scared of bees. I remember thinking they were annoying when I was a kid, but I also remember thinking the idiots who would screech and yelp if they even thought about a bee near them were annoying too. I don't think Mr. Holt is scared of bees either- he's not scared of anything really - but one reason I love him so is his ability to maintain a healthy skepticism while I get all carried away with new projects. Before we actually met our bees, he quietly took stock of the situation and sized up the potential risks we might be hazarding. On the day we became beekeepers, he had all the precautionary measures under control. 9-1-1 ready cell phone, benadryll, and long sleeved shirts for both of us. When we arrived at the bee-yard, he insisted I wear the giant haz-mat bee suit and tuck my hands inside while he maintained a safe distance from the occupied hives, and asked a lot of questions.

Myself, I vacillated between bursting with curiosity, excitement, and a sensation that I'm pretty unfamiliar with. I would say it was fear, but I wasn't really scared. I knew Mr. Holt had the situation under control, and Dr. Drone would warn us if something was actually dangerous. I think it was more the experience of having no idea of what to expect next. It rather upends one to be utterly without precedent, especially one like me who is normally the bossy know-it-all in any situation. So nervous, maybe. My heart was beating very fast when the bees were dumped into the hive for sure. I really half expected them to rise up as a cloud of fury and head for my haz-mat protected face.

But each minute we spent there made me more bold, and made Mr. Holt more relaxed, until very quickly the protective suit was off, and we were both nose deep inside the open hive, asking questions and cracking jokes. None of us were stung; I was landed on a few times, but I just blew the little bees off. They kind of tickle when they walk on you. It's the fuzzy legs I suppose.

We not only survived the day, we enjoyed the day. Unscathed and, I think I can say, ready for more.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome to the neighborhood

Getting the bees into their new home was a lot less ceremonious than I thought. Whenever we've gotten a new pet, a kitten or puppy, say, there is much fussing and putting out of treats. Coaxing, cajoling, all of that. I think getting the bees out of their box was the first biggest mental shift I had to make- these are not pets. No matter how fond of them I've already become, they're bugs.

We smoked them a little, using cool, white smoke from dry pine needles. Dr. Drone explained that this signals to the bees that it is time to eat some honey, which makes them calm and docile. I guess in a natural setting the smoke source would be a forest fire, and the bees need to have ready energy to make a long flight away from a burning habitat if need be.

The smoke made them hum even louder as they fanned their wings and settled down to munch. Dr. Drone pried out the can of food, and rescued the queen cage before it fell into the box.

And then - get this - he just DUMPED THE BEES INTO THE HIVE! It was crazy. Just shook the box a little upside down and most of the three pounds of bees just tumbled into the top of their deep. Tapped it once or twice maybe. And that was pretty much it. We positioned the queen, still in her cage, between two frames, where the workers could get close, but she couldn't escape. This is apparently necessary so that she doesn't decide to look for nicer digs and take her family with her. If we leave her in the cage for a few days everyone can get settled, hang up their posters in their rooms, and pull off the ugly wallpaper in the den. Once they've made it a little more their own, the queen will start laying and then we'll know they're here for keeps.

We set them up with a giant jar of bee food to get them started, plus the honey already in the frames. I'm nervous they might be gone next time we visit, and so excited too- welcome to the neighborhood bees. Please don't relocate too soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to buy bees

I think there must be many ways to buy bees; I've been looking at some beekeeping catalogs and they all seem to be able to fed-ex them to your door. Maybe through the farmer's market or the local beekeeping association too. We didn't go through all that though, because Dr. Drone knows a guy.

Here's what we did do: Mr. Holt, Mad-scientist Dr. Drone, and I piled into a car.
We drove to the back corner of a Lowe's parking lot
We avoided the mama goose nesting in a tiny divider and her anxious mate
We walked up to a giant trailer that wa literally FULL. OF. BEES.
We handed a guy a sweaty wad of cash and received a box. of. bees.
I've never bought drugs off the street, but I imagine it must go down just like this.

The bee box looked a lot like this, though I'm sorry I didn't bring my camera to capture the truly bizarre nature of this transaction. I'm sorry- it's my first time..

The can hanging from the top has bee food in it, some kind of simple sugar syrup I think, and somewhere in the writhing, humming mass of bees in the middle is a tiny box containing a queen and her attendants. The Disney princess were a little after my time, but bee royalty is something I can really get behind. Apparently we had just purchased three pounds of bees and the queen, locked in her tiny box, is the key to getting them to stay in the new home we prepared.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

the set up

Today is really the beginning of proper beekeeping. Mr. Holt and I arrived at the apiary totally unsure about what the next few hours might be like. Turns out apiary is the fancy way of saying bee-yard. That was the first surprise.

The bee-yard is adorable. Tucked away right in the middle of the city, it is hidden inside the university agricultural campus and is surrounded by fields where students learn how to make fatter cows, parasite resistant crops and optimal fertilizers. It's really quiet, birdsong, the wind, and the occasional lowing of a disgruntled cow. City Skyline just visible in the distance. Then, as you approach the hives, the air takes on a wonderful buzzing. Low and quiet, from a few yards away I can only describe it as full of summer and industry. Thanks to the warm spring breeze, the bees were already working.

Yes, this is for REAL how beautiful it is at the bee yard.

Dr. Drone, our mad-scientist partner and fearless leader, showed us the basic equipment: hive tools, for prying the wooden bits and pieces apart, big gloves, a smoker, lots of pine needles, and a jacket that kind of looks like a hazmat suit, only with a mesh face mask. He also brought the beginning parts of what will be our hive- two big wooden boxes, called deeps, full of frames. Frames are sort of like thin, vertical shelves that hang next to each other and provide a surface for the bees to build wax combs. Dr. Drone brought combs that already had some honey in them so our new bees will have something to eat right away. It's like a welcome to the neighborhood pie.

We put it together, stacked in layers, and it looks so like a doll house, colorful and sturdy. I'm confident our hive is the best looking in the apiary neighborhood. It is all ready to receive its insect occupants!

Monday, March 1, 2010

In which we start our hive

Very recently I began a new adventure.

At my house these adventures all eventually end up in one of two categories: folly or fabulous. I like both, but it's usually impossible to tell exactly what I have gotten us all into until much of the adventure is underway. This particular adventure (I can already tell) lends itself to storytelling, so I'm determined to record some of the notable highlights here. Even if it turns to folly, perhaps I can enjoy the recounting. Maybe you will too?

The adventure is beekeeping, and it has already begun.