Honey Bees

Yesterday morning Frank and I went to the local beekeeping store and bought some basic tools and clothing for beekeepers. Yesterday afternoon Frank prepared a spot in our garden for 2 hives. Last night we picked up 2 beehives – one heavy with honey. Today we’re beekeepers. Simple as that.

Preparing a base for our bee hives

We have a lot to learn about bees, the care thereof and harvesting of honey, but we aren’t totally ignorant. Frank’s father kept bees so he has some idea from a labourers point of view. We got some books from the library which give a good indication of what’s needed and what to expect. We’ve attended meetings of our local beeking association and will soon be joining. But nothing teaches like doing, so we’re doing.

The poor bees, I feel very sorry for them. We went to collect them from their previous owners. There were 10 hives in a small suburban backyard – plus one in a tree that had swarmed recently. It was dark when we went to grab the boxes but bees are always on alert for danger and moving around hives is clearly something they classify as danger.

It was all very dramatic (definitely jumping into the deep end of this beekeeping lark). Frank was only 1/2 geared up (thinking it was a  simple seal and transport job) so he was stung about 10 times. Ditto for the former owner. I kept my distance. A couple of the air vents on one of the hives had apparently been damaged so the bees came swarming out, fighting mad. Of course the other hives were also alarmed by the night-time activity so threw in a few punches of their own.

We eventually got them in the back of the station wagon (with every exit point taped over) under a bit of sheer cloth just in case. The operation was difficult but not unmanageable up to this point. Then it became unmanageable – at least for me.

One hive (double stack) was full of honey and really heavy. Frank declaimed that there was no way I could help him unload. It was 9 PM and our neighbours were out of town. I made a pleading call to Chris who, like my knight in shining armour, came riding over in his big and beeless car to help. (Chris scores the first jar of honey.) He and Frank lugged and huffed and puffed the hives into place.

Frank then suited up and went down to remove the tape from the hives. The poor little guys were suffocating and roasting alive in their closed hives – something you never should subject bees to. (Note to self, moving hives is more about preparation than transport.)

Frank with most of his beekeeping gear on

Chris, Linda and I went inside and watched through the dark window and Frank struggled with the tape and the swarms of very unhappy bees. Zero stings.

At 11pm, just before bed we went back down and checked on the hives. The bees were on the outside breaking a sweat (or that’s how I imagined them).

Bees outside their hive after a move

Frank once more suited up and removed a bit more tape (their previous owner taped and taped and taped those hives) to make sure there was good ventilation  We went to bed hoping the colony would still be there when we got up.

Gearing up for more night-time beekeeping

Sure enough, they were still there at 6 AM. Many still hanging on the outside, but far fewer than at night. And bees were going in and out of the hive. By 9 AM the bees on the outside were basically gone.

Less bee activity outside of the hive at 6 AM

The plan for today is simple, we will make a foray to the hives to try to remove the rest of the tape (I didn’t even know we had taken that much tape with us) and then we’ll leave them alone to get settled. I hope the chickens do the same.

The girls are very curious about these new boxes in their space. They keep wandering near (like standing and staring right in front of the hive entrance) then they shake their head and walk away. I assume the buzzing is some instinctive alarm system because they are giving the hive less attention than an empty box would get. I also assume bees don’t perceive chickens as much of a threat so just fly around the silly things.

I’m not totally irresponsible. I had done some checking online about chickens and bees. From what I could find, they live together in perfect harmony. Mine are off on the right foot to just such a harmonic relationship.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
This entry was posted in bees, Chickens, Garden, Nature, Sustainability and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Honey Bees

  1. Coop Poop says:

    “By 9 AM the bees on the outside were basically gone.” Gone for good or back in the hive? Do you have a good plan for getting out the honey? Impressive hobby which takes more courage than I could ever muster!!

    • Pretty sure they are back in the hive though I guess there’s no way to be 100% certain. Bees don’t tend to take off unless they have a Queen to follow. They can’t survive without the hive. Since loads of bees are carrying pollen into the hives now it’s pretty obvious that the hive hasn’t swarmed (left the hive for a better home).

      I think I have a good plan for getting out the honey. It’s pretty easy if the hives have been managed well. We’re joining a local beekeeping club and they have an extractor we can use (a big drum you spin which pushes the honey out of the hive frames to the wall of the drum and then it runs into a bucket below).

      I actually think beekeeping is a pretty easy hobby and I don’t feel brave. I’m not afraid of stings but I may change my tune when I am caught for the first time 😮

  2. You never stop learning about bees, and bees don’t read the book, i.e they don’t always do what you think they are going to do. My husband went on a beekeeping course before starting up beekeeping and this is something I would really recommend. Its not a simple hobby, lots of things can go wrong,and we lost 2 hives to varroa this year, inspite of giving varroa treatment. Also because of all the rain and the cold weather in the UK we have had to feed our bees this year, even in the summer. Good Luck and do go on a course if you can. Becoming friendly with an experienced bee keeper certainly helps too.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. We do have it easier in Australia – no verroa (yet) and in Sydney it is unusual to have to feed bees. We have things in bloom all year and bees don’t go dormant like they do in places where there is a real winter. I may look for a course and I’m certainly joining the local club which is very active and has a lot of members with heaps of experience. Fingers crossed my 2 hives will flourish.

  3. vuchickens says:

    So cool! I’ve always thought bees would be a great adventure… but I’m too scared of the stings. Is Frank in a lot of pain? The last time I got a bee sting it hurt like hell for a week!

    • Frank was in virtually no pain. One sting on his lower back did get a bit red but the others were no worse than normal mosquito bites. And he’s no stoic hero so I believe him when he says they didn’t hurt.

      Both of us are blessed to not react much to stings and bites but I also think the memory is worse than the reality. I know the last time I was stung it sure hurt, but that was about 40 years ago so my memory may be playing tricks on me. I’ll let you know when one of my bees finally gets me if my memory is right or wrong.

  4. Good luck with the bees from an American-British beekeeper. I am sure you will love it!

  5. ooh now i read the rest of the story 🙂

  6. Brave, brave girl. Can’t wait to read more.

  7. Pingback: What’s Working? | Laura Rittenhouse's Gardening Journal

  8. Pingback: First Season Honey Harvests | Laura Rittenhouse's Gardening Journal

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