I recently attended a fundraiser screening of the Queen of the Sun movie (great one if you haven’t seen it) with a question and answer time with the guys who produced the movie. One of them said, “Chickens are the gateway to bees.”
I already blamed the chickens on my cat, Purrrcy. Now, the chickens will take the heat for the bees, I guess. Pretty soon, I’ll have enough going on in my backyard I can write a song about it. The farmer in the city, the farmer in the city, High Ho the Eggie O, the Farmer in the City. The Farmer gets a cat, the Farmer gets a cat, High Ho the Eggie O, the farmer gets a cat…the cat wants some birds, the cat wants some birds…you get the idea.
Having my own bees is something I’ve been kicking around now for maybe 3 years. I’ve always loved them, never feared them (never been stung **yet**), love to watch them, fascinated. I plant flowers to attract them, and don’t mind walking through heavily blooming areas with bees all around me. I feel a connection with them somehow in ways the people in my life don’t seem to have (read: they scream and run if a flying insect of any kind gets within 25 feet).
Two years ago, I bartered with someone for a Top Bar Hive. These hives remind me of little caskets, actually. They’re not the popular stacked box kind of hives that are seen everywhere (and that most of the bee books are written about). I picked this kind of hive because I wanted to allow the bees to build their combs and produce their honey in as much of an organic way as possible. They start building on one of the top bars, and grow it down organically. They aren’t confined to a certain structure like in other hives.
I’d also heard that you need less equipment and the hives cost less, so it’s a more economical way to get into bees. These hives are also easier to manage without medications.
The cons are that they take more intensive hive management and you get less honey for the effort.
For me, though, the pros outweighed the cons and I was ready to take the plunge into backyard beekeeping. Except I wasn’t.
That first year, I missed the deadline for ordering and buying my bees. And I didn’t know enough at the time to know there was any other way to acquire them and I didn’t realize the deadlines were so early in the year (order in January with a March cut off).
This year I thought I was more prepared, but I wasn’t. This time, though, it wasn’t my fault. There was talk of moving and houses being looked at and suddenly the thought of being a newbie beekeeper, moving a few thousand bees, seemed a bit overwhelming.
And in the process, the bee ordering deadline passed again.
I’d read a few places about swarms. People saying it was a bad (unpredictable) way for a beginner to start. You don’t know what kind of bees you’ll end up with, how nice they are, nor how healthy.
But then I went to the movie screening and heard people talking about swarms being the best way of all to get a hive started. The only way they recommend, even. This got my juices flowing…it is swarm season right now. There is still the possibility of a swarm to call my own. It might be a long shot (lots of people are waiting for swarms, probably more than there are swarms in these parts).
I wavered back and forth for a few days. Should I even try? Finally, I knew I could answer an enthusiastic YES! The bees are in trouble. I love bees. I have a hive. I have space. I’m not moving, at least anytime soon. WHY NOT?
So, I dug my hive out of the garage and waterproofed it with tung oil. I selected a location that is near perfect. Early morning sun, afternoon shade, a fence behind (and on the other side of the fence is a hedge). The only possible problem might be the winter wind, but I can deal with that in the fall by building a barrier of some kind to protect the hive.
The location I placed the hive is also where I have my ready-and-near-ready dirt overflow from the compost so first I had to shovel layers of dirt out of the way, then work hard to get everything level by hacking through all those roots from the hedge on the other side (a level hive helps ensure the bees will build their combs straight for easier removal).
The chickens, seeing a shovel in my hand, came running. They know a shovel in the chicken yard means worms and bugs for them. Always so unhelpful and in the way they are. Good thing they’re cute!
I’ve temporarily put the ‘chicken bully pen’ around the hive so the hens don’t think this is a new fat roost for them to poop on. And I’m going to a swarm catching class on Tuesday (and then I’ll also be allowed to put my name on the swarm list).
Of course, even though I’m currently bee-less, I’m already planning for the 2nd hive. If I can catch a swarm (or lure them in with some lemongrass essential oil), then I will set up a 2nd hive and hope to repeat the whole process twice.
I know, I’m asking a lot. But why not aim high? In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare for the possibility of birds AND bees in my backyard. And hoping for the best.
For those of you interested in helping SAVE the bees (whether or not you want to keep bees yourself), here’s a great article by the folks over at Glory Bee that you should check out: A Gardeners Guide to Protecting the Bees