The Art of Darkness

An Update on the Bees

November 23rd, 2010 by Cobwebs

BeesSo the bees are safely tucked away for the winter, and other than keeping snow from blocking their entrance and checking once or twice to make sure they haven’t used up all of their food stores, I can pretty much ignore them until spring. Reflecting upon my first year of beekeeping, I have to say that I heartily recommend the hobby.

Bees take far less care and attention than any other livestock, so it’s possible to fit them into the busiest schedule: You inspect the hive once a week (or less) during the height of the season, and perform very occasional maintenance duties like dusting them for mites.* They’re surprisingly non-intrusive: Even though we certainly noticed their activity in the garden, we never really saw an increased bee presence where we didn’t want them.** And they’re also amazingly gentle: Shadowboy and I would often walk right up to the hive and watch them going in and out, and Shadow Jack occasionally used a weed whacker a few feet away without ever being bothered. I was stung exactly once this year, and it was completely my own fault.***

The information overload that I complained about initially also quickly resolved itself. You do have to know a fair amount about caring for bees, but the trick is that you don’t have to know it all at once. By the time you need to start learning about more advanced topics like pest control, you’ve already learned (and are comfortable with) routine inspections and maintenance. A seasonal calendar and a couple of reference books (plus the indispensable Mr. Google) will help you stay on track.

I unfortunately didn’t get to harvest any honey this year–which isn’t unusual if you start with a package–but I did collect a bit of extra wax and plan to experiment with candles. However, even without the honey, the hobby is immensely rewarding. It’s fascinating to observe the hive at work, and to pull out a frame swarming with bees and figure out what each one is doing.**** It’s also fun to be a “speaker for the bees:” I’ve done community outreach events with my beekeeping club, spoken to Shadowboy’s class, and been interviewed by a college student writing a paper on urban beekeeping. People seem to be fascinated with bees, and it’s rewarding to be able to de-mystify them. It’s also a healthy activity: Between prepping the hive site, working with the bees, and doing yardwork (such as planting bee-friendly flowers) to make them comfortable, I’ve spent more time outside this year than I normally spend in three.

Bottom line: Immensely rewarding hobby, and I highly recommend it. If you’ve got space for a hive, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

*Which is actually fun. As someone with strong crunchy-granola tree-hugging tendencies, I’ve opted for a pest management routine that emphasizes non-chemical solutions. To get rid of the varroa mites that infest bees, you open up the top of the hive and dust heavily with powdered sugar (which encourages the bees to groom themselves and knock off the mites). Surprised bees boil out of the hive, looking like little flying powdered doughnuts. It’s hilarious.

**Well, aside from one incident where I sprayed some wax foundation with sugar syrup (which encourages the bees to build out honeycomb) and put a leftover frame in the garage. An hour later there were, oh, about five thousand bees in the garage. Covering the frame in plastic wrap so they couldn’t smell the syrup solved that, but it was a rather arresting sight.

***I frequently wander down to the hive when I get home from work, and one time I noticed a line of ants near the entrance. I was standing right next to the hive, wearing no protective gear, shooing ants away with a stick, and a guard bee essentially went, “You have got to be kidding me.” If you’re slightly less dumb than I was, you’ll probably never get stung.

****In the photo above, for example, they’re not swarming; they’re cooling off. When it gets too hot they collect in large clusters and fan their wings, cooling themselves and helping to maintain the hive temperature. Either way, a big wad of bees hanging from the landing board is certainly an impressive sight.

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. xJane Says:

    I heard recently that the Mysterious Case Of The Disappearing Bees was solved—and I hope it was! I love seeing bees around. And now that it’s Spring (in LA), I see them everywhere!

  2. Maven Says:

    I miss my bees. I am one of those oddball people who got progressively MORE allergic to stings rather than less. I quit while I was ahead of the EpiPen.

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