Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The {Love} Birds and The Bees



I've mentioned it a couple times, but I wanted to write an official post about our beekeeping.  Yes, Mike and I are beekeepers, and it always sounds funny when I mention it to people.  It's not something that we thought we would ever do, but Mike and I are into DIYing, not just around the house, but we enjoy the processes of making things ourselves.  We've made cheese, wine, sake, and Mike even cuts and smokes his own bacon (our friend's parents have a farm).

Obviously, the biggest example, (and the hobby that takes up a most of his time), is Mike's homebrewing.  And it's this hobby that actually got us into our next hobby, beekeeping.  Mike is involved in a couple groups and clubs within the homebrewing community and he got to talking to one of his friends about mead.  For those that don't know, mead is kind of like a honey wine, it uses honey in the fermentation with water, but can also have hops added to give it a more beer-like taste.  The guy he was talking to actually had a couple hives and used the honey to make mead, and once Mike heard that, as they say, "the rest is history".

We went to a couple beekeepers meetings (our county has an association), met a guy about our age who became our "bee mentor", built our hive late last summer and bought a couple pounds of bees from our bee guy (about 10,000 bees).  We enjoyed watching the hive become active and start to make combs, but we had our share of trials too.  We had a neighboring hive try to take over, (or robbing as Google informed us) and we lost a bunch.  This didn't help the colony with the need to store up the honey for the winter.  That, on top of the uncommonly mild winter, (mild weather just warm enough for the bees to stay active, but too cold to come out of the hive), meant that we had to say goodbye to our 10,000 babies.

We wanted to make sure this summer we started early enough for the hive to grow strong before winter, so this past weekend we received 3 pounds of happy new bees and introduced them into our hive.
   
One of the packages with about 10,000 bees in it, (with a couple hundred on the outside) and the queen in a small cage in the middle.  Our bee guy put one just like this in a card board box (with no lid) and I drove home by myself, all the while wondering what music bees would like.

Our hive isn't the typical white box (called a Langstroth hive) everyone might be used to.  Ours is called a top-bar hive (which is more a hobbyist hive), and it won't surprise you that we chose this hive because we can build it ourselves a lot easier.  The difference between the two is basically a Langstroth hive has frames already built that the bees build their honeycomb off of, where as the top-bar allows the bees to make their own comb.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but for the backyard beekeepers like us, we like our top-bar for the ease of use and less disruption to the bees for caretaking.

Via Bee Pollen Health

Mike built the hive, and I was in charge of the painting.  I thought it would look cute as a little mini house, so I had a small quart of paint color matched to the siding, found a dark gray color for the roof, and used the left over red from the front door as a little accent to our observation window, (something Mike added to his design).  Here is our hive which is located behind the garage.  Since all of our houses are pretty close, this is the farthest from everyone, and doesn't really bother anyone.


After cleaning out the hive from the last years bees, we were ready to introduce our new babies bees to their new home.  We left a couple of the old combs in so that the new bees can clean them out and use them without having to use energy to create new ones.


This process went pretty quickly and once you start shaking the bees and moving the queen around they aren't very happy, so I was standing off to the side wearing my bee suit, so the pictures aren't the greatest.  At one point I realized I hadn't white balanced (as seen above), so I apologize in advance.  It's hard to snap away when you're wearing a giant netted hood with a bunch of bees buzzing around your head!

Mike started by removing the can of food that blocks the opening of the package.  After the can is removed, the queen's cage is removed.  The queen is not from the hive so she has to be introduced separately.  To do this she's placed in a cage with a couple bee attendants and placed in the hive for a couple days to get accepted by the bees and get the hive's smell.  After a couple days there is a candy plug that is in the cage and once we remove the cover to the plug, the bees eat through the candy and she is part of the hive.


Here is Mike with the queen's cage.  And, not to bring more attention to it, but anyone assuming that all bees do is sting when they are disrupted should note that Mike was so into what he was doing, (and I was too busy taking pictures), that his crack was pretty much showing the whole time and he didn't get stung.  Now that would have been a pain the butt, (pun definitely intended)!


Like I said it was all happening so quickly that I wasn't able to focus this next shot, but this is the queen's cage up close while we checked to make sure she was alive and well.


After setting the queen aside, Mike took the package and pretty much dumped the bees into the hive.
     



Most of the bees fall into the hive, but some are stubborn and stay in the package.  Since we only use about half of our top bar hive, we put the box in the other half to allow them to fly out into the other section on their own.


Once the bees are placed in the hive, the bars are put back on, then the roof, then Mike did a check of everything - making sure the entrance was open and what not.




So there's our bee story.  We'll keep you up to date on the happenings back there and when we finally can start taking honey (we have to make sure we leave enough for the bees over winter).

We'll leave you with a little goodbye from one of our girls, (Mike calls them all girls since the worker's are all female (did you know that? I sure didn't when we started this)).  We check each other before we take our jackets off and Mike found this little girl hanging out on my shoulder.

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