Friday, April 29, 2011

Arrival of the bees

The date was set, April 23rd the bees were to arrive in Denver from California. I looked forward to the date with a mixture of excitement and dread. I began to have nightmares that one of children would be attacked and stung to death by swarms of angry bees, or that I would do something wrong and kill the whole swarm, I fretted that I was unable to get local bees, and that these tender California bees would perish in our cold climate, (I'm still worried sick about that one) or worse yet I worried I would be too terrified to work with the bees. I must admit, although I love nature and and can spend hours observing insects, I am not exactly OK with things crawling on me or buzzing around my head possibly getting stuck in my hair. Bees? Me? What was I thinking?
The day dawned cold and rainy and my anxiety mounted. I had prepared my top bar hive, chose out permanent location, and lovingly waxed each individual bar so the girls would know where to start building there comb. I had made sure the hive was level (important apparently for them to build straight sturdy comb that wont break off the top bar when manipulated) and I had my bee suit and veil and gloves. I had already made the decision to do this whole bee thing as natural as possible so I opted against a smoker.
The boys (and I include David in that too) were bursting with exciting that we were getting out own bees. Fin my oldest had read Beekeeping for Dummies and was spouting facts about bees like an encyclopedia and asking me questions like would we use a Queen excluder. Queen excluder? I guess I hadn't been as thorough in my reading.
Finally at 2:00 I drove to To Bee or Not to Bee and as expected found my package of lovely Carniolan bees awaiting me. What I hadn't expected was that many of the bees were outside of package. I watched as experienced beekeepers picked up their packages seeming unaware that bees were buzzing around their heads.
Now true, I hadn't taken a class, but I had watched many Youtube videos about hiving bees (hiving is the process of getting the package of bees into their new home) and I hadn't noticed that some of the bees would be outside the box. This required me to carry my new humming package 100 yards to my car while bees crawled over my hands and buzzed near my face. Thankfully I was able to suppress the urge to drop the box and run away flailing and screaming.
Bees that are in a swarm may look menacing but are actually at their most docile. They do not have honey or a brood to protect and are not apt to sting. I did relaxation breathing and drove the bees home.
It is amazing that any of the 12,000 or so bees lived through the experience of hiving. None of it went as planned.

The queen, who is isolated from the rest of the hive in her own little box, (that's her in the second photo) usually has a cork plug on the underside of the box that you remove, and inside should be a small candy plug the bees will eat over the next few days to release the queen. When my brave husband David, glove less and hands covered in bees, removed the cork there was no candy and we quickly tried to wedge the cork back in.
That would not have been a problem but because of the cold weather we did not shake the bees into the hive but left them in their package hoping they would surround the box that held the queen as they warmed up. The problem was the queen was not snuggles in her box ready to lure the hive around her with her hormone, she had been released, and one thing lead to another, the bees got cold and wet and sluggish, but eventually we got queen and bees back into the hive and by this time the bees did not seem to follow readily, so my son Fin and I knelt on the ground and painstakingly helped them along.
Monday remained cold and but by Tuesday it warmed up and the bees took their orientation flights.!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bee Guardian

After years of thinking about it, I finally took the plunge and bought a beautiful handmade top bar beehive from a wonderful company called The are out of Boulder Co and promote beekeeping to improve the plight of the bee and to help increase feral bee populations in a time when bees are in dire need of help. I encourage everyone to check out their website. Their video is amazing too and will have you wanting to purchase your own hive.

I have been unable to take advantage of any of the numerous beekeeping classes offered in the Denver area because of my weekend work schedule, so I began researching and reading about beekeeping in my usual one-track, obsessive way.
I found Beekeeping for Dummies, Stories Guide to Beekeeping and even Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture all were informative, but I think the best source for me was The Barefoot Beekeeper by P J Chandler.
He also has a great site, and there are other good sources on organic beekeeping such as, and of course
Silence of the Bees is also well worth watching.

What all these books videos and sites have in common is NOT the desire to obtain honey at all costs to the bees, but the desire to raise bees in a natural organic fashion that causes less stress to the hive and will hopefully help them survive without the use of chemicals.
When it came to making the decision about which type of hive to choose, it was not difficult. A little background...
Conventional Langstroth hives have been around since the mid 1800's and were produced in order to optimize honey production. Today these hives are used around the world, in both commercial and hobbyist apiaries. They utilize a rectangular box with preformed comb that the bees must utilize to make their own comb.
Bees make comb for 2 purposes.
1) to raise their "brood". The queen lays hundreds of eggs a day in the combs.
2) to store honey.

The Langstroth beekeeper thus can manipulate the size of the comb as well as manipulating the percentages of drone cells he or she wants to hive to bear.
In the spring with the budding of pollinating flowers and trees, bees collect nectar and pollen and then create honey. This honey is used to raise the young bees, but is also stored in hives and dried by the bees to be used as food to help them survive the cold winter. It's thermal mass also helps keep bees warm during the winter. That is how wild bees survive northern winters. It is estimated that bees need 40-60 lbs of honey to get them through the winter, more or less depending on temperature ect.
Commercial beekeepers as well as many hobbyists will harvest that honey and feed the bees sugar syrup. This is NOT something I could ever be comfortable with.
The top bar hive is constructed to allow the bees to make their own comb along wooden bars laying atop a box. This allows for a more natural method,
and since there is less disruption of the hive during routine inspections, you do not need to "smoke" the bees.
Smoking is a method used to subdue bees. Perhaps you have seen images of a beekeeper donning a white suit and veil with a small metal smoker in his hand. Scientists believe that smoking the bees causes them to gorge on honey believing a fire is imminent and that they need to flee. They are not interested in stinging since they are panicked and there alert signals may be missed due to the smoke. S0me organic beekeepers feel this is not necessary and that it causes undo stress to the hive.
I hope that the more information people have about these amazing creatures, the more likely they will be to want to help them.