Bees!

I have been enamored with the idea of keeping bees for ages. I don’t remember when it started – maybe when we studied bees as a unit study when I was a kid? Basically I just think bees are cool and that it would be fun to have some to watch.

In the definitely hippy leaning birth class we took, at the last class the fathers were encouraged to make something for the mother and give it to her in a “mother blessing” ceremony that included foot washing. Sorta weird, but the upshot of it was that Ken made me a beehive (totally showing up the other 6 or so fathers, by the way. Not that we’re comparing.) I was totally surprised!

It’s a top bar hive, which is a different setup than most commercial beekeepers use – the rectangular boxes (Langstroth hives). It’s basically easier to build, so cheaper to get into, but you don’t get honey as efficiently. If you’re doing it for fun like us you don’t need hundreds of pound of honey anyway. Some people like it because it’s a bit more “natural” and more mimics what bees do in nature. I like it because there’s an observation window (The blue painted area in the pictures below) and pulling out the bars to inspect the hive doesn’t disturb the bees as much.

The way it works is that the bees build comb hanging from the triangular bars that make up the top of the hive – you can see some installed and some laying on top at an angle. Yes, that’s baby. Don’t worry, the bees hadn’t yet taken up residence and she wasn’t yet rolling.
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Here’s a view down inside. You can see the entrance holes on the right. The board on the left is movable so you can add more bars as the hive grows.

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This shows how the roof is hinged and the hive is on a stand that will hopefully deter skunks and raccoons. I’m afraid if we have a bear wander through who wants it we’re just out of luck. Hopefully they stay up in the mountains.

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Here’s the bees as they arrived in their package. I say “they arrived” like they showed up by UPS or something, but no, a local guy drives all the way to California to pick up like 4000 of these packages and drives them all the way back for beekeepers in Arizona and New Mexico. We had to drive about 35 minutes to meet him to pick up our bees. (Not bad, from what I’ve seen on the internet – some people drive for like 6 hours to meet a bee package). It was a Friday morning, so “we” was me and Anna. It was a bit nerve wracking picking up and transporting 4 lbs of bees in the same car as a 5 month old, but there was a very nice lady at the pickup who volunteered to hold Anna while I actually got the package, and all the bees stayed back in the trunk happily on the drive home. Installing them was definitely interesting (when Anna finally decided to take a decent nap). I’ve seen it described as pouring a thick liquid like oil, and it’s just like that except that the bees are much less dense. They didn’t seem too perturbed by it, they were just happy that the queen was still there with them.

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The bees have been in-house for just over 2 weeks now, and you can actually see that they’ve built quite a bit of comb in that time. Hopefully that means that we’ve got a healthy queen who’s laying lots of eggs that will hatch into new bees in the next couple of weeks. They’re certainly busy flying out and bringing in loads of pollen when the weather is nice. Usually the side of the comb is completely covered with bees, but today it happened to be exposed when I peeked through the observation window, so I took a picture.

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I haven’t yet felt comfortable enough to bring the camera down while I’m actually opening the hive – I’m busy not panicking and trying to avoid squishing the little ladies. I’m still nervous, but in the two times I’ve had the hive actually open I’ve only seen one bee try to sting me and awesome bee shirt/hat and gloves protected me just fine. Maybe sometime in the next few months I can build up the courage to take some in-hive pictures.

Keeping bees seems to be a sort of heartbreaking thing. At the local beekeeper’s club meeting, the average from all the data they’ve collected is that 50% of hives make it through the winter. So… We should probably get at least one more hive to avoid having to buy a package on average every other spring, and to have a place to put our ladies if they grow enough bees that we could start a new hive. All credit goes to Ken for this hive, the only thing I did to assist in building it was to paint the outside. So Ken, better get crackin’ on another hive! Unfortunately (well, fortunately) one of our other live creatures that we take care of is about to need a major carpentry project. And frankly, this baby who is about to crawl around our baby-death-trap house is far more important than the bees. Railings and stairs come before a new bee-hive, I guess.

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