Things are really buzzing here at the farm. I feel like I can really bee myself. Life is sweet. The puns really just write themselves on this one.
The day for which I’ve been waiting several months (plus some years before that) has finally arrived. This morning I took a short drive up to Hampden to the home of The Bee Whisperer and picked up my honey bees.
Years ago I tried a top bar hive with no success. I know, I know, many bee enthusiasts in the audience are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. Look, I’m right there with you. But I jumped on the bandwagon. Let’s face it, I’ve never been one to do things the way everyone else does them. That usually works out for the better. Not so with my diversion from the traditional langstroth beehive. However, nobody could explain to me why the bees didn’t survive the winter in my top bar. The answer was always ‘top bar hives just don’t work.’ Clearly, they do. Lots of people have success with them. Just not so many here it turns out. Not until I met The Bee Whisperer and took his beekeeping for beginners class did I get a clear understanding of why my top bar hive failed me. Bees need to move too far from their cluster (heat source) to get food (stored honey) in a top bar hive in the winter. In a Langstroth hive their food is above them and the heat of the colony rises. So they can stay warm when they have to break off and grab a bite to eat. Brilliant!
Now that we’re at our new farm I am determined to have bees. I loved having them the summer they thrived in my top bar hive and was pretty devastated when they died that winter. So I spent part of this past winter building my own Langstroth hive. Pictured above are two deep supers where they’ll build their brood. You can already see them taking off and landing for their orientation flights!
This project helped me learn a lot about woodworking (thanks to all the great people who share their knowledge on Youtube!) I found plans for standard sized supers and frames online. They really shouldn’t call the series ‘For Dummies‘. They should call it, ‘For Self Motivated People Who Like Doing Things Themselves‘. I built all the supers and frames from pine and cedar cut from the farm and milled by a local sawyer. I planed the boards and saved all the shavings for the hens. I cut the box joints and glued everything together. Then I got busy with gardening stuff and before I knew it last week rolled around and I learned my bees would be available for pick up today. Over the past week I’ve spent every spare minute painting and putting foundation into frames. I’m not very good at that yet so it takes me a while to get them lined up and seated properly.
A few last-minute purchases like my veil, gloves, helmet, smoker, hive tool and foundation, all of which arrived in the nick of time, followed by a couple days of frantic bee video searches all led me to this morning. I discovered online that the cheapest fuel for a smoker is punky wood and pine needles. Works great! However, as I experienced when I had bees in a top bar hive, the smoker ended up not being necessary.
As long as you don’t move too quickly and don’t do anything stupid like start squashing bees or swatting at things, they really don’t care too much that you’re in there. I had my veil and gloves to be sure but really they seemed pretty indifferent, even as I moved the five frames of my nuc to the bottom super of my hive. Ho hum, another crazy human is here moving us around. Let’s get on with it then. I dug through my old bee stuff and found the feeder I had made to fit in the top bar hive and set it by the entrance with some sugar syrup which the kids help me make. The kids are psyched about our bees!!! It was almost as much fun watching them get excited about the bees as it was getting the bees themselves!
Even if we don’t consume a scrap of honey from this hive it will be worth every penny spent and every second of work I put into this effort. Why? Well, for one thing, bees are entertaining. More importantly, the pollination in my garden this year is going to be spectacular. That was something I was actually able to perceive when I had bees before. The summer squash and zucchini in particular seemed to thrive the year I had bees and fell flat the next season when they were gone. My bees will be like all other animals at this farm. They’ll work for me. In the meantime, I’ll return the favor by planting as many things as possible that flower. Oh look! The peas are flowering just in time! Local food. Eat well – bee well. (Last one, I swear.)