Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The calm before the swarm....

     Ok, not really a swarm... but I pick up my bees on May 5th, a little delayed from the 21st we were supposed to pick up but that's OK too. It has actually given me a little more time to think about what I want to do. So many decisions to make. I know that I'm going with the Langstroth hive, but was unsure if I wanted med or deep supers. Let's face it, I'm not as strong as I used to be and honestly the thought of lifting full supers was daunting. Then we have had some challenges with closing out our business and me converting to stay home Mommy. Sometimes the best laid plans don't want to iron out right!
SO.... I ended up putting an appeal for a used or extra hive on Craig's list. LO and BEHOLD! Greg, the VERY same gentleman who owns Dakota Bees hit me back, he has a hive for me! He didn't even know it was me! Just out of the goodness of his heart. So, I would like to give him a total high five! I was worried I would't be able to have my hive, and now I will! I am CERTAINLY going to pay it forward by doing something VERY cool involving kids and a class once I get this bee thing going!
     Since I don't have anything really new to report (yet) I thought I'd actually just share a little about these amazing creatures that I've learned. First of all, even if you are no beekeeper, but are a gardener, as some that have emailed me are, you can help out! You don't need a honeybee hive to keep bees. There are lots of other sorts of bees, and actually some are even BETTER pollinators than honey bees! Such as, the mason bee, the Cutter bee  and Bumble bees of course! (click on the links for more info!) I guess I didn't even know this but, mason bees, cutter bees and bumble bees rarely sting, I mean really, you can put your hand right over their hive and they won't do a thing. Let's be a bit selfish for a second here, let's face it, as gardeners I am always interested in ways to improve my crop yield. Just think a 30% bump just for putting up some bee habitats. Here are some examples;
I found these images online. 
I am going to make my own version of these because you can have bees that are honey bees and also other types as well. Heck, I'm all for helping out the bees and helping my own crops too! I have just put in a small area on the side of the house of nothing but wild flowers from a bee-friendly packet of seeds. Bees forage miles away from the hive so I'm not worried that my little fuzzy friends won't have enough to eat. I live in the burbs and we have just a ton of trees, grasses, flowers, manicured lawns and even some wetlands about 2 blocks away! I pick up my hive this week, and will hopefully be up to setting it up before the weekend, but it may not be until Sunday since we are tilling and planting this weekend. I have decided to put my hive in the midst of the garden, facing south getting some nice exposure to the sun and hopefully being able to keep the harsh winds we've had all season at bay. I will of course post some lovely pictures of how this momentous event goes down! I will leave you with this idea, if you decide that a hive is a good idea for you, I urge you to give Greg a call, he not only does the honey hives, but he also does the Mason bee hives as well. He makes them by hand and they come apart so you can even preserve the larva for next year! Clever! Here is his link the price is lower than a lot of seen online, and I really feel like even though he's done me a good turn, he's done the bees one better. 
See ya next week when I hopefully will post my pics and experience of not only setting up the hive, but also adding my bees! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Class time!

     I awoke to dreams of bees in my brain, because it was Sunday. FINALLY! The day of my (our) bee class had arrived! Even without a cup of coffee I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed. I had no idea what to expect as far as the class, I didn't think we'd be actually doing anything in a hive, but I didn't have a whole lot of knowledge as to what we were doing. I'd dutifully placed my order for my first package of bees earlier in the week, from a man who has been raising bees in the CO area a long time. He is a generational bee farmer. Excellent! Now, the class!
     We dressed fairly carefully, but it was a warm day and wouldn't you know it, I had gotten a sunburn the day before just sitting outside reading. A bee book of all things! I ended up wearing a tank top and shorts, but I remembered to put on my hiking boots and socks. These are my fishing boots so they lace tight against any intruders. Probably not the ideal beekeeping outfit but I also had a hoodie in case we actually got into the hives. As you can see Sean wore a button down, he's a brave soul, because he is allergic to bees. This is a concern, but he's been a good sport and gone along for the ride.
     Notebook in hand, we arrived on the other side of town a little late, it took about 30 min to get there. The class was gathered around a couple of empty hives. I arrived in time to hear Greg from Dakota Bees (that was our teacher), start talking about releasing a package into a hive, releasing the queen, and the initial feeding. So, first off, you want to take the bee package the queen will be in a small box that resembles a matchbox, more oblong in shape with a metal end piece that bends to hang off a frame. The bottom has a hole in it, but it's got a cork in it. Then you put the box the bees comee in on top of the box with the opening open, and then shake the bees into the hive. Don't worry about the stragglers they will smell the queen and find their way in, just leave the box open and over to the side of the hive. Mind you, that I have not done this yet, but will be doing it on the 21st, when I pick up my bees. I'm going to basically go over what I was told, and then I will compare it to what I actually do. I've found that in life, these can often be totally different things! OK, so here's a little tidbit that I didn't read in any book, which is exactly why I want to be someone's apprentice for a year. Unfortunately I have been unable to find anyone in my area of town that wants a slave, em, er, an apprentice. Here's the info on the queen, first off a lot of books tell you it's OK to clip a wing even encourage it, when I brought this up, Greg looked fairly appalled to be honest, then told me that was a bad bad idea, because if you damage the queen she could die or be unable to do her job, the hive would reject her, leaving your hive queenless and therefore vulnerable!  So, that nixed the idea of cutting a wing to keep her in the hive for me! Make sure you feed your bees! [ put a 1.5 lb bag of sugar into an empty gallon jug, and fill the rest with hot water, don't boil it first, shake until well mixed, note that is NOT a gallon of water, that is fill the rest of the gallon with water] He showed us how to install a bee feeder, either side feeder or a top feeder inside. You want to keep away the robber bees, the colony isn't strong, so you put your entrance reducer to the small side, so they only have the little hole to go in and out, therefore leaving a small space for them to defend as an entrance.
     Next, once you have the queen in the hive, hanging in her box with her bees, the bottom of the little box has the cork still in it, you check the hive in a day to make sure all is well. In many books it tells you to now put a piece of "bee candy" in the bottom of the box, so the bees can chew through it and release the queen. What works just as well, rather than making candy, cause it looks sort of like a pain in the butt if I'm honest, and making candy for me is a holiday thing, is use a piece of marshmallow, just take a small piece and roll it like you would for an earplug and then stick it in the end where the cork was. MAKE SURE TO COVER THE END OF THE BOX WITH THE HOLE! It's OK to use your finger, as the queen won't sting you, they only sting other queens. Queens can fly off! Now the bees can chew through the marshmallow and release the queen.
Wait a couple of days and then go back into the hive and check the inner frames for larvae, you want to make sure the queen is doing her job. They will also have started building up the comb, even when the queen is in the box because they know she will need to lay eggs soon. The queen should come already fertilized, and will start laying her eggs, so there should be larvae when you check. If not, you should look for the queen and make sure she's in there. I ordered my queen marked because honestly I'm a bit worried about futzing around in a hive of bees looking for a queen! Let's face it, I haven't done this yet and am a bit nervous about it!!!!
     So, according to Greg (who isn't the be all and end all, and doesn't claim to be! we all will find our way!) a smoker isn't needed. He doesn't use one, and he goes out and collect swarms. This sort of freaked me out, why? Because EVERY book says BUY A SMOKER! Frankly it sounds like a pain to me, and his solution sounds pretty good. He said first off, go buy a $1 empty, clean spray bottle, then make the same syrup you use for feeding your bees and give them a spritz, only if they bounce off you, because that means they are agitated. If they are really pissy, walk away and come back later, maybe 10-15 min. I liked that because even though I don't particularly think that smoke hurts them, but again, I admit it, I may be lazy, but lighting a smoker and fiddling with all that seems like a pain. I will probably buy a smoker but I am going to go with the sugar spray first. It makes sense to me. If you give them something to do (other than gorge themselves on honey because of a natural fear of smoke) say, lick sugar off themselves and other bees, they can't sting you. It also makes sense that it may help with the control of mites. After all, you can sugar treat your bees for mites, why not spray them? He did say don't overspray them. Just my thought, and again, I haven't actually DONE this yet! :) But it makes sense to me that if they are agitated, walk away!
     As to the outfit, yes, you can buy a bee suit, spend a ton of $, like $50-100 depending on the suit. But again, why? What makes sense is a light colored wind breaker or hoodie, gloves, and of course the most important thing is a veil. This is the one thing I think you just can't scrimp on. But the gloves can be ordinary gloves, I have some leather ones I love that I work in the garden with, they are light weight and they fit very nicely on my hands, light leather! Of course logically bees can get anywhere there is a crease! One of the things Greg said in his lecture was to take an old pair of tube socks, cut off the toe and slip it over your hand, it will cover the space between your glove and your sleeve, keeping you free from bee stings at the wrist, OUCH!
Since I live in Colorado, it's been a bit difficult to figure out what sort of equipment I was going to need, and what sort of financial outlay it's going to be. There is also the fact that no book can tell me where to put my hive because every state & area is different, although I think the basics are the same for everywhere. The books I've read haven't really address this.  This class was very helpful in that I was able to get some info on that too! Since this blog is pretty long, I'm going to go ahead and break this into the next part (this is the part known as the CLIFF HANGER so you will come back!).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blessed BEE

     Beehive. That word gives humans pause. Since Hollywood got a hold of the concept of killer bees that word has really freaked out some people. When I, who live in the suburbs and am certainly a "girlie-girl" decided I wanted to keep bees people couldn't have been more astonished. I have always thought bees were these amazing creatures, but kept my distance, you know they sting right? I took up gardening about 4 years ago, and have since become obsessed with the sowing, growing, watering, feeding and nurturing of my garden. 
     In the course of my gardening, I got up close and personal with one of my favorite & important parts of the garden, the bees. Every year for the past 3 years I have planted specific plants for the bees. I had heard about something called CCD, (Colony Collapse Disorder) which at the time I didn't know the name, just that the world's bee population was in danger. Let's face it, I'm not the most socially conscious person on the planet, I'm not MISS GREEN, heck, I don't even recycle. I won't lie, I garden because it relaxes me, wards off depression, it's my hobby! I'd love to be able to say that all the food I grow saves me oodles at the store, but that's simply not true. It probably costs me more to grow one tomato than buying an entire container of them in the summer. That's not what it's about for me. I will however admit that every single thing I grow tastes 100X better than anything I bought. As my kids say, I grew it with love. Maybe that's why. 
     About 4 years ago during the honeymoon phase of my first garden, I was a little over-zealous on my facebook page about how much I loved my garden and watching the bees. A "friend" made a snarky comment  "enough about  your garden & the bees already".  For the next few weeks I was embarrassed and didn't say a peep about the garden, my cats or much less the bees! As the summer wore on and my love for the garden and all it's creatures encompassed me. I couldn't help it, I "unfriended" said "friend" and went on about my business and felt a little better about talking about my garden. In the back of my head lurked the comment, that maybe this ONE person had the gumption to say what others were thinking. Maybe I had become boring and annoying with my talk of flowering pumpkins, cats chasing butterflies, grapes and bees... It has stuck in my craw for 4 years.  
     As and aside, in that 4 years, and during this time, I was a part time gardener, this has been a sanity saving hobby because I have built a business, sold that business and am now retired and I'm not even middle aged. Well, it's garden time again, and for the past six months all I have thought about is the garden and the buzz of the bees in it. Enough of this pussy-footing around! I read up on urban beekeeping. First just some blogs, did a few Google searches, then I approached my husband with the idea of a hive. I did my research and it seems we are in an area there are no prohibitions for beekeeping. YAY! I have signed up for a class (this Sunday, cannot wait!). I have ordered my first nuc of bees, and am feeling elated! 
     I have been thinking about my first garden a lot as the season progresses, and that comment, made so offhand, which embarrassed me so much. I want to thank that "friend" because of that comment, I am going to actually step up and start beekeeping. Is that the only reason? Of course not. I am delighted that I will be helping the bees, that I get to watch them and photograph them. I'm completely thrilled that I will get to learn something new that gets me out and something that I can share. I am not going to be ashamed to share on facebook or twitter as I progress. As a matter of fact, I decided to blog about my experience as a brand new beekeeper in the city. So, here it is! For the record, I've never even been near a beehive, I've never pulled a frame or collected honey or fed a bee (other than planting wild flowers for them). I have never seen a Queen, or scraped honey or even seen propolis or royal jelly. I just learned what a queen excluder is and how a hive actually works via some books. I'm a bit worried that you know, I'll get stung (which is pretty much a given), that I will freak out when I feel bees crawling on me, or that they could swarm. I don't think these are unfounded fears, but the excitement I'm feeling is overriding every one of these fears.  
     I have no desire to sell honey or comb. I don't think I care much about making stuff out of the comb, but you never know with me. I may get a passion for candles or something. Could happen. I am excited about my new adventure! I'll keep you posted. So hopefully you'll hit "follow" and come along with me on my journey as an urban beekeeper.