Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bringing the Hives Home

Friday night, I became a beekeeper.  Beekeeping has been an aspiration of mine for several years.  I read books about bees and dreamed of the day that I'd have the freedom and time to try my hand at bees.  I spent several days over the last month studying even more, preparing my hives, selecting my bee sights and gathering my supplies.  I had everything but the bees.

Teresa and Randy Wagoner supplied me with the bees.  Their house was situated on a residential street with average size lots, the tenth house on the right.  From the front, other than the bee wrap on the mailbox, it could have been any house.  Entering the back yard you immediately realized that this was not an ordinary house.  This was obviously a bee house.  Seventeen or more hives were scattered at various places and levels around the lot.  Hives were stacked on benches, the barbecue pit, the bed of a pickup truck.  Bees flew with purpose in and out of the yard landing on the hives and disappearing.  The bees weren't interested in us.  They had jobs to do and they were too busy to pay attention to anyone or anything but the task at hand. 

Upon my arrival, Randy and Teresa gave me a crash course in bees and the art of caring for them even before we suited up.  I learned about the equipment they choose to use and why they like it.  I learned how they care for their equipment and harvest their honey.  I learned about the work and process of keeping bees.  I learned how to light a smoker.  I learned that Teresa was a lot more particular about the way the hives looked than I thought I would ever be.  Randy seemed particularly concerned that I'd never been around bees, known anyone that kept bees or seen a real bee keeper in action.  His last question to me before we suited up was, "How do you feel about stings?"

After we suited up, we went right to the first hive.  Randy and Teresa prepared two ten frame brood boxes for me earlier in the day.  The comb had been trimmed back evenly, the propolis had been scraped off the frames and brooder box.  They'd inspected the hives and were certain that the bees I was taking home were going to give me a good start, even though I'd begun so late in the season. 

The hives were overflowing with bees.  I was pleased to discover that the bees didn't freak me out.  I hadn't expected to freak out but then I'd never been in the midst of more than 10,000 bees.  The activity inside the box was so fascinating that I hardly noticed the bees that flew around my head.  Plus, Randy was talking as he worked through the hive showing me the differences between brood cells and honey cells, pointing out eggs and larvae, helping me see the difference between workers and drones, searching for the queen.  There was so much to see and learn. We moved ten frames from the Wagoner's box to mine then strapped the first hive closed and began working on the second.

The second hive was busier as the sun began to set.  Bees don't fly at night so as dusk moved into night, every bee was finding their way home.  We worked more quickly through this hive.  Randy was concentrating  on moving frames and locating the queen.  Since we'd been through the first hive, he didn't linger over identifying brood and honey, he did show me some drone cells that we hadn't seen in the first hive. 

We finished the second hive with just enough light to check out a hive that was building queen cells.  The hive wasn't a healthy one and the Wagoners were hoping to be able to save it.  They were expecting to have to combine it with another hive before fall in order to give the bees enough food and brood to last the winter.

As I drove home with two full bee hives in the back of my truck, I marveled at all that I'd seen and learned in those two hours.  Bees were undoubtedly the coolest animals ever. 

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