We’s got bees!

by Margaret on August 9, 2011

in News

Here’s the story of how we became beekeepers (on a very small scale).

Look carefully and you'll see the rather angry bees protesting the opening of the hive.

For  long time, we had a bee colony cozily ensconced in one of the dormers of the house. Over the years, various workmen (roofers, painters, chimney sweeps) emptied cans of spray into the tiny hole that served as an entrance to the hive, to no avail. It would slow them down a bit, but clearly the hive was so extensive inside the dormer that only a small percentage of the bees would be killed. Not that we really wanted them killed–we just wanted them to move elsewhere, and to stop causing panic among work crews. We realized it was a healthy wild honeybee colony that had managed to persist in the face of many challenges, both from nature and humans.  The bees were providing much-needed pollination for the local crops and had never bothered anyone on the ground. We could hear the buzzing of the colony from  inside the dormer, but honey was not leaking through – yet.

However, the original cedar shake roof was beginning to crumble. It was at end-life (35+ years – no leaks, be we didn’t want to push our luck), and needed replacing. As long as we had to make such a large infusion of money into the local economy, we decided to spread it around and call a bona-fide bee removal  specialist. Steller Apiary coordinated with the roofing crew and soon the bees were evicted from the house. However, we did not stack all their mattresses, clothing and kids toys out at the road for the next garbage pickup. Part of the deal with the bee removal company was to move the bees to a new hive, which they provide. Having located the queen during the removal (I have NO idea how — perhaps she was wearing a tiny crown and waving a teeny scepter?) and vacuumed (that’s right, vacuumed) up most of the bees (estimated at around 50,000),  they moved the little monarchy to the new hive, where they immediately set up housekeeping. A few stubborn die-hards continued to fly around the old hive site, but after a day or two they had either re-joined the colony or died of exposure.

Here's a better view of the dormer roof. The hive went up and over the top of the peak.

Life at the hive seems to agree with the new tenants. We were expecting a boxy, white, stacked-looking hive, but what we got was a top-bar hive, so named for the separate wooden bars that span the top of the hive under the cover. The bees immediately got to work building combs that hung separately from each bar,  just as the beekeeper said they would. We placed the new hive so that it would get morning sun to warm them up and afternoon shade to keep the hive from getting overheated. Though a bit apprehensive at first, we quickly realized that these bees are not aggressive and that the hive can be approached and even opened without causing them to become agitated. So, of course, it has become a regular evening ritual to check out their progress (though the handy viewing window built in to the side of the hive).

Our new top bar hive.

 

We do not plan to take any honey from the hive this year – the colony will need all they make this summer to get them through the winter, as all their surplus (and there was a LOT of surplus) was lost. However, if all goes well, we should be drinking tea with our very own “Pitchfork” brand honey by late summer of 2012.

 

This is about 3 weeks worth of work. There are about 8 separate combs so far.

We had never imagined how fascinating bees are to watch. We could set up lawn chairs near the hive and watch them work for hours. It wouldn’t take long, however, for their industriousness to prod us into action in tackling the endless tasks that the farm requires. But we do enjoy the occasional distraction that they provide, and who couldn’t use a good role model?

 

Some of our bees.

More of our bees. To get them to smile, I told them, "Say 'bees'!"

 

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cary July 16, 2011 at 5:10 pm

What a wonderful story and with a happy ending besides ;) I laughed out loud when I read how you made the bees smile ;D

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Carol Densmore July 28, 2011 at 4:15 am

Very neat! We just had a swarm of honey bees visit us (see the link to my blog posting: http://crosswindfarm.com/busy-bees-literally/ ) . After two days I called a beekeeper to figure out what we should do. Then they moved on by themselves. But over that two days I learned a lot about honey bees and am actually thinking about getting a hive, so your post was very interesting!!

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Margaret July 28, 2011 at 10:01 am

If you do decide to go ahead, we highly recommend Steller Apiaries. They will come and set the whole thing up for you and teach you all about them.

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