welcome, and thank you for joining me on my farm and studio in southern lancaster county, pennsylvania

Saturday, April 10, 2010

sunbeams and stingers

"The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams."
Henry David Thoreau

the new hive

This week, in between potting up seedlings, meetings, bottle feeding lambs, and repairing winter-damaged fencing, I finally made my top bar beehive. I first heard about this non-traditional type of hive in a Mother Earth News article last year and then learned more from the book The Barefoot Beekeeper. I put the final touches on it on Thursday evening, moved into location on Friday morning, and got a call from the post office late Friday afternoon that my bees had arrived, and would I like to come pick them up? Of course, I promptly jumped in the car and went to get the latest livestock for the tiny little farm.

Oh dear.

One thought... was it too late to change my mind? Yes? Oh. Okay. So I brought them in the house, put the package on my office desk and closed the door. Then I went into the kitchen and made a batch of fondant as well as some sugar syrup for them to eat in case there aren't enough flowers blooming just yet.

So this morning as soon as it warmed up a bit, I decided to buckle down and install the girls in their new home.

But first I took the syrup and fondant out, then decided the bottom ventilation board needed a hinge after all and so added that, thought that the roof/lid should have eye hooks to secure it, painted one one more coat of beeswax/linseed oil sealant on the roof, brushed my hair, and gave the dogs a fresh bowl of water. Pretty much doing everything I could to delay the moment when I would intentionally open up a box with, oh, about 4,500 bees in it and not run for my life, screaming and flailing my arms. Seriously.

After giving myself a stern talking to about bucking up, I suited up and donned my bee jacket and veil, rubber boots, long pants secured with rubber bands at the bottom, and leather gloves. All the while wondering why on earth I hadn't bought the Tyvek suit.

still safely in their package

that's right

Carrying them out to the hive brought me to the moment of truth. I sprayed them with sugar water, sprayed inside he hive, sprayed the bees again, and began prying off the lid. Lid off, the bees still couldn't come out until after either the queen cage or their sugar can was removed. I carefully removed the queen cage and slammed the lid back in place. All the YouTube videos I watched said to check to make sure the queen is alive. Looking into the cage, I was surprised to see several bees in there. But it did seem as though one was a bit bigger and longer. After prying off her lid and placing her cage in the hive (Where it shall remain until the end of time. Amen.), I once again sprayed the bees, then knocked the box against the hive to make the bees drop to the bottom. Moving quickly now, I removed the sugar can, turned the box upside down and began dumping bees into the hive.

They were mad.

Really, really mad.

About to panic, I walked calmly away until we could all calm down a little bit. And got stung on my leg.

What's surprising is that I walked back. And finished up by gently brushing bees out of the way so the top bars could be put back on. Then I quit. I'll wait and go back out tonight after dark to put the roof on because the girls and I had about as much togetherness as any of us could handle for a little while.

here they are - if you look closely, you can see many of them still in their package, crawling all over the top bars, and at the entrance holes

So I did it. I opened up that box of fear and shook out a couple thousand bees. On purpose. And lived.

I feel good about that.

Now I need to go rest.

Then I need to order that Tyvek suit.


Teri said...

OMG - good for you!! So glad you did it! I have to admit though - your description about the experience did make me laugh a bit (and make me thankful it was YOU and not ME) Good job! And how are the new tenants doing?

Rural Revival said...

Wow, I'm preparing to do the same thing myself for the first time this year. I'm glad to hear you made it out alive; it gives me hope! Interesting and informative post.


Anonymous said...

I just found your farm blog today. I followed a link from your art blog. I can't believe there is another artist blogger out there that also keeps bees and chickens. Thrilled that our paths have crossed!

Congratulations on your bees. Your hive is beautiful! I thought about building a top bar hive this year but decided to stay with Langstroth and start using foundationless frames because it would cost so much for me to start over at this point. Maybe next year!? Maybe if I catch a swarm? Who knows?! I look forward to reading more about your adventures in beekeeping. Good luck!

P.S. I love the Barefoot Beekeeper.