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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Got Bees?

As some of you may know, there is somewhat of a crisis in the bee world. They, meaning the experts, call it CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder. It seems the bees are not making it back to their hives, getting disoriented and dying. There are any number of reasons they think this is happening. New pesticides, toxic waterways, cell phone towers, no one is really sure, but obviously something is happening.

The thing most people don't get is this: without bees, there is no food production. Everything that grows gets pollinated and most of the time, bees are the most important part of the pollinating equation. Something needs to be figured out and fast or we could all be in real trouble, if for no other reason than our food prices going into the stratosphere.

Personally, I didn't know the first thing about bees. Like so many other things, Kino used to raise bees and taught me everything he knew. Last year, we ordered just one hive to get started and one 3lb. package of bees. The whole process was really interesting and fun, so much so that this year, we ordered 2 hives and two 4 lb. packages of bees. We got about 30 lbs. of honey from our one hive last year, so I'm looking forward to doubling that this year and being able to sell some at the Farmers Market. You see, the idea is to leave enough honey in the hive so the bees will be able to use it for food while they overwinter. Unfortunately, like so many other beekeepers, our hive did not survive the winter and we had to start out fresh this spring. No one really knows why the hives aren't making it through the winter, whether it is CCD and too many bees never made it back or if they just couldn't take the cold.

Last Saturday, Kino and I spent the afternoon building our bee hives. You order the hives from a catalog, they show up in pieces and you have to put them together and attach the beeswax to the frames in preparation for your bees. It was a great day with just the two of us, hanging out, drinking a beer or two, listening to music and building hives.

Sunday, we headed to Hudson, Wisconsin to pick up our bees. We order from a guy that goes to California and brings back a semi-truck with all the bees. Now, I have never gone to get the bees before, so I had no idea what to expect. In my mind I thought, just me and Kino show up at this guy's house, pick up our few packages and we are on our way. Was I wrong. The letter he sent us said to get there anytime after 2:00 p.m. This worked out fine because Brenna had a basketball party, so we took off after that was over and got there about 3:00. Holy shit. There were at least 50 people in line waiting to pick up their bees. There were guys/girls in bee suits in the garage, handing out packages of bees left and right. People were wheeling out up to 10 packages of bees on dollies!

We took our place in line and after about 35 minutes, stepped up, paid and walked out with our 2 packages of bees. Because it is still pretty cold here, you have to make sure the bees stay warm and fed. First we had to spray them down with a squirt bottle full of bee syrup, which is just sugar and water. Next, Kino had a box with towels, gallon jugs of hot water and a blanket. We put the bee packages in the box, surrounded them with the warm jugs and towels and covered the box with the blanket. This would keep them nice and toasty on the hour ride home.

Once we got home, it was time to empty the bees into the waiting hives. This part is a little tricky and scary. You literally tip the package upside down and shake the bees out onto the top of the frames inside the hive. You would think they would come out stinging like crazy, but I didn't get stung once and I didn't even whimp out and wear the bee suit Kino bought for me. I'm no pansy. Okay, I did freak a little when they were flying around my face and crawling on my hands. Kino took over then. The key is to not make sudden movements. Easy to say when they are flying all over you and in your face! Kino just handles them like they are ladybugs. They are crawling all over his hands, all over his clothes - he never even flinches. Even when he gets stung occasionally, he just calmly says, "ouch, he got me."

Our main concern was keeping them warm. It was going to be cool and windy here for a couple of days after we picked them up. We placed the hive on the front porch instead of out by the trees in the spot we usually keep them. This way they were protected somewhat from the wind. We wrapped the hive with a blanket and sat it on top of a heating pad. Then we filled the feeder (filled with sugar syrup) and placed it in the opening of the hive.

The next few days, there wasn't much movement coming and going out of the hive - too cold and windy. But yesterday, the wind had died down and the sun was out in full force and they were all over the place. They were flying in and out of the hive, feeding on the syrup and foraging around looking for real food, in the form of pollen, which is in short supply around here right now. Nothing is blooming yet and that's why the sugar syrup is so important. But in no time at all, our crabapple trees will be blooming like crazy. We have 55 flowering crabapple trees on our property and the bees just cover them. When you walk under the trees all you hear is one continuous hummmmmmmm - all the bees buzzing overhead collecting pollen.

It's amazing how soon you aren't afraid of bees anymore after you work with them for awhile. You learn they aren't out to sting you and are really just busy working, so as long as you stay out of their way, you don't have to worry.

My kids aren't even afraid anymore. Kino taught the kids how to identify the drones. Drones do not have stingers and the kids can spot them and reach down and just pick them up. They haven't been wrong yet - but I'm sure that day will come!

If you have any interest at all, you should get just one bee hive. You don't have to live in the country, the hives are small enough you could even have one in town. You won't believe how good the honey tastes and think of all the good you'll be doing by keeping bees.


Sadie said...

Oh wow! That sounds so neat!! I would so willingly do that, but I know my hubby would never agree. But it's so interesting to read about!! Thanks for the educational post!!

Mrs. G. said...

How cool is it that you have your own bees? I'm sure you know that many people believe bee stings have healing power-the people without allergies.

Cherry said...

When we have a yard, I'd love to have a hive. I have a few friends who have ventured into keeping hives, and even out here in warmer CA, hives are dying.

Mmm, I think I need to go have a spoonful of honey right now.

Amy said...

I have wanted to do this for so long! I'll have to start doing the research to figure out where to start. I'm in the middle of suburbia, but there's an abundance of blooms around here and the neighborhood. Very cool post-thanks!

Kat said...

Wow, that is so cool! I loved this post. I really like the new look of your page too. =)

jenny said...

i read somewhere about ccd. it is really sad/scary! my hubby's grandparents have bees on their farm. this post was so informative and exciting!

Madeline said...

What a great post. I love the pictures. Did you get the link I sent you about the natural mite remedy? Did you ask about it by any chance? Nicolas thinks we shoudl only treat them in the winter. I am not sure.

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Angie said...

What the hell? Is this why some of you ask for comment verification? Hmmmm. Maybe I should consider that.

Erikka said...

when i was working as a farm apprentice, I got stung, in the forehead, by a bee. Well, it was maybe a wasp - slightly bigger than a honey bee but not a wasp. I was minding my own business, picking some squashes (or were they melons?) when I stood up from squatting and BAM, the bee flew into my forehead, leaving its stinger.


That was one of three times I've been stung my whole life. I feel pretty lucky. Oh, one more story. Another time was in FEBRUARY! My friend got a flat tire so I got out to help her change it. Suddenly I felt this searing pain on my knee and started slapping my leg and jumping around. No idea what happened. Fixed the tire, got in the car, drove to our destination. My knee was throbbing. Get to the place, go in the bathroom to put something or other on it, and voila, a bee crawls out of my pants! Seriously, FEBRUARY?!?!