I had very low confidence that I’d have honeybees in my home kitchen garden this year. As I reported about six weeks ago, I rebooted my effort to get a beehive started (Beekeeping at my Home Kitchen Garden) after last year’s discouragement. However, because of budget constraints, I was planning simply to bait a beehive and hope to capture a wild swarm of honeybees.
In the past six weeks, I cleaned up a hive body (called a brood chamber) and the component frames that will eventually hold honeycomb made by bees. So, on Saturday I decided to visit a local apiary to buy foundation. Foundation is a sheet of beeswax pressed with a pattern of hexagons that bees will happily build upon to create honeycomb and brood comb.
The apiary was closed on Saturday, but its operator told me there’s a beekeeping supply store just up the street. This was news to me, so I drove out to see what the store had to offer.
While I wasn’t paying attention last October, a company called Brushy Mountain Bee Farm opened a branch store about five miles north of where I live. The store sells everything a beekeeper needs to succeed. Coincidentally, on that Saturday, the store had received a truckload of honey bees customers had ordered.
I browsed, I chatted with the staff, and I watched a customer load a station wagon with about sixty packages of bees. I don’t know how many packages had passed through the store that day, but some people who ordered failed to show during the scheduled pickup time. It became apparent that there might be unclaimed packages of bees… and here my reclaimed, ancient beehive was ready for occupants.
I left my phone number, and this morning I received a call. Some bees had, in fact, been abandoned by the people who ordered them. Yep! I bought a package of bees.
It was raining and miserably cold today by the time I had the beehive ready to receive its new residents. It was so unpleasant that I didn’t even try to take photos of the procedure. The bees were sluggish because off the cold, and they got a bit wet. Not one tried to sting me, and I’m afraid several hundred didn’t make it into the hive.
Of the more than 10,000 bees that made it into the hive, the livelier workers immediately started examining the beeswax foundation. I hope they quickly find the food I provided for them. As they mill about and feed, they’ll warm the inside of the beehive… and that will make them livelier still.
The rain and cold will continue for another day, but by the weekend, it will be warm enough to draw the bees out so they begin exploring their new neighborhood. I’ll keep an eye on the food and replenish it when it runs low (which I hope it does quickly) and I’ll check inside the hive in ten days to make sure the bees have settled in OK.
I’ll share more about the beekeeping experience in coming posts.
Your Home Kitchen Garden blog has suffered from significant neglect for many months. This is partly because the blog is about growing food—something I pretty much don’t do during the winter. On the other hand, last summer and fall I wandered the neighborhoods of Lewisburg and surrounds, photographing kitchen gardens that I figured to share with readers during the cold months… and then I didn’t share them.
Spring is upon us in hardiness zone 5b, and I’ve started excavating rows in my home kitchen garden for cool-weather crops. This means there’s something else I didn’t accomplish during the non-gardening winter: I didn’t get my behives in order.
Last spring, I got very excited to revisit beekeeping. My dad had managed honey bees, and I had participated. He offered up his old gear, and I made a trip to the old family farm to bring home some beehives. I blogged about these experiences in several posts:
As excited as I was to start bees, my enthusiasm took a nosedive when I saw the condition of my dad’s old gear: mouse nests, dried up wax, broken frames, missing components (a bee bonnet, gloves, and a smoker are crucial for me as I swell up like a bo-bo doll when I get stung)… I needed a focused weekend to bring dad’s old gear back to life.
So, weekends passed and I made no progress on the beehives, and pretty soon it was too late in the season to start a hive… and that’s where things stand. I’ve a large stack of wife-annoying gear in the garage, and I must reserve a day to scrape wax, repair frames, mount beeswax foundation, and assemble a hive body and a super.
Last year I approached beekeeping with great enthusiasm… but it was already kind of late in the season before I realized fully the challenges I’d face. This year my enthusiasm is back and my eyes are wide open. At the very least I’ll move the beehive components out of the garage.
Still, I have every intention of setting up a hive body in April so it’s ready for occupation in May or June. I’ll evaluate whether I can afford to buy a package of bees with a queen. If bees are too pricey, I’ll set some bait honey in my hive and hope to capture a swarm.
However my beekeeping efforts play out this season, I’ll report here.
My renewed intent brings me to re-raise the call: If you have a garden and a little extra space, please consider seriously starting your own bees. With Colony Collapse Disorder still puzzling specialists, every new hive provides a smidge of added hope that our honeybee population remains vital.
I’ll provide encouragement… and I’ll try not to let down the honeybees this year. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Way back in February, Your Home Kitchen Garden started cheerleading for kitchen gardeners to take up beekeeping. While I promised this blog would not become exclusively about beekeeping, I also vowed to install a beehive in my own home kitchen garden some time in May.
I’ve been a bit quiet about beekeeping lately, but I have been pursuing the dream. In May, I made a day trip to Ithaca to pick up my dad’s beekeeping equipment. I began my trip with high enthusiasm. And, while the trip got me much closer to the goal of starting a bee hive, it was also a significant setback.
I grew up in the city of Ithaca in upstate New York. When I say “city,” I mean I lived in a house in the city. Ithaca is a small city, and things turn rural quickly when you drive away from city center. When I was in my early teens, my parents bought a farm about 15 miles from our house, and we commuted to the farm on weekends and occasional weeknights.
The farm has about 100 acres of mostly wooded land, with only about four acres of fields. A stream cuts through the property and passes within about thirty feet of a big old timber-frame dairy barn. There’s a tiny shack we referred to as The Milk House at the street end of the barn. This used to house a refrigeration tank to hold freshly-harvested milk where a truck could pump it out and transported it to a processing plant.
We had converted the Milk House into an intimate bunk house with a tiny coal stove (in which we burned wood), had fenced the fields and some of the woods to serve as horse pasture, and had established a large in-ground garden bed along one side of the barn. There was no electricity, no running water, and only a portable chemical toilet.
Despite the inconveniences, we spent nearly every weekend visiting the farm to ride horses and do chores. My mom took control of the home kitchen garden—or can I call it that since technically it wasn’t at our home? My dad oversaw maintenance, and he managed beehives.
Many, many years ago, one of my brothers installed a mobile home at the farm and lived there until his significant other’s job took them both to Boston and later to Maryland. Then another brother built a modular home where the mobile home had been. There, he’s raising two daughters and a menagerie of domestic critters.
My mom died 12 years ago, and my dad’s interests shifted from the barnyard area to the woods. He’s trying to grow various hardwood trees, I guess so he can harvest and sell them to lumber mills when he reaches 145 years of age. My brother’s priorities have never quite matched those that drew us all to the farm when we were kids, and the kitchen garden and the beehives have received no attention in many years; my mom’s garden bed is now home to a stand of sturdy sumac trees.
I get back to Ithaca, perhaps, three times a year, but I rarely poke around the barn: I park in my brother’s driveway, and visit inside the house… or I stay with my dad in the city. It was a bit surprising to see that my brother’s horses have kicked a hole in the side of the barn. Other than that, things looked a lot as they had when I was involved with the farm twenty years ago.
Actually, it was uncanny that so many things in the barn seemed to be exactly where I’d seen them 20 years ago: the workbench, some trash cans, saddles, tools… all still in place, but now covered with a thick layer of dust. These are things that, understandably, offer no utility to my brother.
Main components of the beehives stood in several stacks to one side of the barn. Some components hung on hooks over the workbench, and others were in the drawers of the workbench. I began sorting through the stacks to find enough parts to assemble two hives. Essential components of a hive include:
I also wanted to find the following items:
For this post, I’ll leave you with the “shopping list.” I’ll explain what these things are in a later post.
The point of my story is that I found nearly all of these items. However, the essential components were in especially bad shape. As I removed brood chambers and supers from the stacks, I found two mouse nests inside the chambers. The mice had climbed to the tops of the stacks, chewed old honey comb from within the frames, and built large nests in the mined spaces.
At least one mouse nest had been there long enough that a whole bunch of mouse litter had sifted down through the lower hive boxes, contaminating everything with poop and pee. When I lifted the super containing the newer-looking mouse nest, a mouse fell out onto my foot, scurried up a cement wall, and disappeared under a heap of frames, hive bases, and hive covers.
I spent several hours sorting through hive bodies, pulling frames, busting the old (contaminated) beeswax from them, and stacking them in my car. Amazingly, my dad still had boxes of foundation—prepared sheets of beeswax or plastic that you mount on the frames and place inside brood chambers and supers. (There are hexagonal impressions pressed into the foundation sheets that provide a blueprint the bees follow when they build honeycomb.) Not so amazingly, a mouse had spent some time messing with the foundation; many sheets were stained with urine. Still, I found enough usable foundation to fill one brood chamber and one super; perfect to get started before having to buy any.
I scored two of everything on my list but a smoker, a pith helmet, and a bee veil. Except for foundation, I have enough essential components to start two hives, and can return to Ithaca to pick up more supers and frames should my bees require expansion space.
Here’s the rub: dealing with fifteen or more years of neglect was discouraging. I remember my dad assembling new, clean hive components when he started beekeeping, and that memory is way more romantic than the reality of working with dozens of mouse-damaged pieces caked in old, dried-out beeswax.
I estimate it will take a dedicated afternoon to clean a brood chamber and frames, mount foundation, and situate the hive near my garden. I’d have started this project in January had I anticipated the condition of the gear; there were no pressing gardening tasks to deal with in January.
So, I’m getting around to my bee operation about a month later than I’d wanted to. I still have inertia from my visit to Ithaca. There’s one more extenuating circumstance: my gardening budget can’t support the cost of packaged bees this year. So, my new goal is to set up the hive and bait it to attract a wild swarm. Conveniently, my dad offered up a partial frame of comb honey I can use as bait. Here’s hoping it attracts honey bees without also attracting bears.