The Bumbling Bee Keepers

My bee keeping experience is limited to starting a Top Bar hive in Kona two years ago; I missed out on learning hive management because we moved to West Africa.  Scott attended his first bee keeping class this April and I watched as his eye dilated with excitement.  He was instantly hooked.  Considering the incredible engineering of a hive I am not surprised by my mechanical/civil engineer husband’s enthrallment with bees.  Engineers appreciate each other.  I guess that’s a good thing, because normal people have a hard time appreciating engineers.  They think so….. differently.

Anyways, this is probably our first shared hobby (besides increasing the global human population) and I am enjoying the camaraderie (minus the diapers, dishes and driver’s ed classes the other hobby tended to produce).

Because we are “newbees” (sorry, couldn’t resist) and require bee keeping relationship and advice, we decided to buy hives, gear and bees from a local business.  Together we walked into the bee store, inhaled the addicting aroma of beeswax and laid into a litany of questions.  So many decisions to make!  While farming in Kona I hung out with some hardcore bee loving hippies and accidentally inhaled a big dose of natural bee love (that’s what I’ll l say if I become president).  Due to my Hawaii hippie Top Bar hive experience I wanted to use foundationless frames.  The idea amongst some Top Bar bee keepers is that bees make smaller cells in nature and this may help protect them from the pervasive Varroa mite.dsc_9131

We decided to try Langstroth hives for ease of use but engage in a more natural form of management. The store owner rolled his eyes at my request but quickly caught himself and gave a sweet, southern smile as he explained that science does not back up that theory.  Having a science degree myself, I pursue hard numbers, good research and microbial counts when it comes to nutrition, farming and medicine, but I also have a growing appreciation for working with nature.  So I decided right then and there to have two hives and compare (and prove him wrong even though he is probably right).  Besides, who can fully trust scientists when for years they have lied and said that bacon is bad for you?

The day our bee packages arrived, Winter decided to interrupt Spring for a few days; the rude cold front forced the bees to reside in the house with us for three days. Isaac is one of few teenagers in the world able to brag about sleeping in a room with 20,000 buzzing bees!  We took shifts spraying them with sugar water to keep them calm and happy and anxiously awaited the weather to warm up.   Because they are Italian bees I slipped a bit of red wine in the spray bottle as well (they requested Menage a Trois but I only had Pinot Noir on hand).  This probably explains why they love me so much and only sting my husbandJ

April 11th the bees finally moved into brand new hives and one week later we notice what appeared to be bearding happening outside the foundationless hive.  Pure panic set in and Scott swiftly dialed up the store for help.  Mr Eye Rolling Hippie Hating Bee Keeper is closed on Mondays, of course.   Thankfully our new friend John saved the day and helped diagnose a rather rare phenomenon.  Bearding didn’t quite make sense- it was 78 degrees outside and they were buzzing too much.  A group of them were piled up in the grass and led us to believe that the queen was out there with them.  Why?  Who knows!!  Just wonderful!  The experimental hippie hive that is supposed to make me proud is apparently dim witted. I have to wonder what kind of pollen these silly bees have indulging in……Anyways, John kindly donated a frame full of brood to give the bees something to do (besides laze around the front porch smoking) and Scott scooped up as many as he could and placed them back into the hive. Within an hour they were all back to “buzzness”.  Ten days later we checked the frames and found several full of comb, honey and beginnings of brood.   I informed the naughty queen she’s on wine restriction until further notice.

It appears my friendly store owner is right- but I gotta try anywaysJ

November PS.       It was an extremely rough season for plants and bees alike due to the “100 year drought” we were privileged to experience as we bumbled our way through our first year of farming. We had to feed our bees all summer and fall due to the dearth of nectar, and apparently we were feeding all the other bees in the neighborhood as well.  Our hives were severely robbed and the hippie hive gave up and found better digs somewhere else.  We will do our best to keep the survivors alive through the winter.  Once again I repeat the mantra “try again next year!”

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