Moving Honey Bees- Take 2

The blue and red lights of a bored sheriff flew on as soon as we turned on the main road.  We had barely gotten started, our precious load in the back, and we knew we hadn’t broken any traffic laws.  The sheriff sidled up to the truck window, lifted an eye brow, and said calmly, “The reason I stopped you is because one of your license plate lights is out.  It’s pretty dim.”

With all seriousness he said this.

Instead of blurting out, “Are you freaking kidding me?”, I gritted my teeth and replied calmly, “We have a bee hive in the back of the truck.”

“I don’t want to get stung!” he said.  I have never seen law enforcement retreat that quickly.

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The bee hive was in the back of the truck so we were already further ahead of where we were last week when Doug and I attempted to move it ourselves.

Have you ever had friends that have done so much for you that you will never in this lifetime pay them back?  That would be my friend, Lisa, and her family.  They showed up in the dark, probably preferring to be getting into bed with a nice cup of tea, and were ready to move our hive.

Lisa and I were friends with Nancy, the three of us loving all things homestead and simple.  All of us wearing our aprons around town.  Karaoke on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.  Watching our children get married and have children.  Friends like these are blessings.  Her husband, Lance, has helped us fix plumbing and set up stoves, he has helped us move heavy items.  Their sons helped us paint.  Their son Bryan built our hive, their son Brandon is a photographer and has taken many special photos of various events in our life, their son Brett is our bee guru.  At nearly nineteen he is the epitome of calm and composure, which is invaluable since around the bees, Doug and I are not.

They did not even bring suits.  Lance, Brandon, Brett, and Doug worked together quickly to secure the hive.  A piece of screen went in front of the door with the minimizer in front of it.  Duct tape went around the hive to secure the roof.  While putting duct tape across the door to secure the screen the whole door fell off and bees started flitting about and walking on Brett.  Calmly the men walked away and we all sat chatting for about a half hour while the bees settled in again.

The hive was heavy enough that four men used all their strength to get it on the back of the truck.  We placed it horizontally so that the combs wouldn’t swing when stopping and starting the truck.  Straw bales surrounded it.

When we got it to the new farmstead the four men took it deftly off the truck and placed it in its new location facing the garden.  Brett meticulously checked the outside of the hive, took off the tape, and then our friends left, travelling the long drive home late at night.  Oh boy, do we owe them!

This morning the bees are cleaning house, taking dead bees out and looking for flowers.  Tomorrow we will don our armor to get into the hive (as they will surely be irritated with us again; they ran us off the driveway last week after we tried to move them), and check to make sure that the combs are in place and that they are not any worse for wear.  Hopefully Queen Victoria has made the long journey well.  It certainly feels like we have a hive full of honey.  I can hardly wait to sample our own Wild Herb Honey!

Moving Honey Bees-Take 1

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We headed down the country roads at dusk, watching the colors change across the horizon, mountains and trees becoming shadows.  We still have a bit of work at the old house to do.  We still have the basement and the garage to clean out and some spiffing up around the property before we send back the keys.  One thing we still needed to move was the bees.  I suppose we have been procrastinating.  We went at night certain that they would all be enveloped around their queen, their gentle rumble keeping the hive warm.  We would simply staple a bit of screen on the door and be out of there before they became wise.  Imagine our surprise when ten or so guard bees still walked the front of porch of the top bar hive.  Not sleepy in the least.

We didn’t come prepared with a ready to go smoker since we thought the kingdom was going to be asleep.  We took the empty smoker sheepishly over to our neighbor’s house and asked for a lighter and something to burn in it.  In her backyard she gave us some old woodchips and held out a handful of leaves and we went back over to the hive.  We had our suits on and a flashlight, which just seemed to wake the bees up more.  We started the smoker and a strange smell came out of it.

I said, “It smells like pot.  What did she give us?”  Doug leaned in to see.

“I burnt my sinuses!” he exclaimed, jumping back.

“Why did you put your face so close to the smoker?!”

We were manic.  Apparently moving thousands of bees isn’t a common activity for us.  We don’t smoke pot, but if there were a good time to start, last night would have been it.

The smoke was hot.  Too hot and I rather fear that I burnt the first layer of bees through the hive door.  We were just panicked.  Doug quickly stapled some screen onto the door and as we looked up we saw that around the roof of the hive there were several open areas.  We both took a good, deep breath and planned our next move.  We each got on one side and tried to lift it.  We made it six inches up when Doug said to put it down.  Who would have thought that several thousand wee bitty bees and their honey would weigh so much!  We agreed that we have no idea what we are doing and disappointedly went home, now certain that no one would be stealing our bees.

We need to call in reinforcements.

A Trip to a Medieval Village (our bee hive)

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There has been so much activity in the medieval kingdom (our bee hive that is) that I thought I better have my friend and mentor, Brett, come over and translate what is going on.  It has been four months since we first got our hive.

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After donning our suits and smoking the hive entrance to hide our intruding scents, we opened the roof.  Fifteen slats were being filled with comb, honey, and brood.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees' legs here.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees’ legs here.

The bees have capped the comb over the brood.  The flat clearer cells are worker bees and the puffier cells that are lower on the comb are drones.  The drones are the only boys in the hive.  They have one job, make out with the queen.  Come winter they shall be ousted from the kingdom.  All the workers are girls.  It is definitely a matriarchal society in this village.

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We also can see honey in the frames closest to the door.  We will save fifteen slats for the bees to get through winter.  Hopefully we can get a little wild herb honey for our winter tea.

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SAM_0052 Looks like the Queen is alive and well.  All hail the queen!

Our Farmstead in August (chokecherries, herbs, bees, and helpers)

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August is a beautiful time on a farm.  The daily rainfall (incredibly rare) has made this place look like an absolute Eden.  Allow me to give you a tour in photos with your morning coffee.

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This wouldn’t be Pumpkin Hollow Farm if there were no pumpkins.  Princess orange pumpkins and green pinstriped pumpkins are quickly filling the front yard.  Some have taken over the herbs.  Some have volunteered in the back pasture and in the mulch pile with the help of our neighborhood birds.

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We grow dozens of herbs for the medicines we make.  Our bees need not scurry far as they are immediately drawn to the medicine gardens.  Calendula (for mouthwash and skin conditions) mingles with Bidens Ticks (a strong anti-biotic when mixed with juniper berries).  Blue Lobelia masquerades as a prim and proper flower when its real superpower is in opening airways and has a place in my asthma medicine.  Funky red Monarda (also known as bee balm) is great in cold medicines and in my brain extracts.  Another picture of fluffy calendula brightens up the herb garden.

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The bees have been tremendously busy bringing in bloomers full of pollen from the sweet herbs surrounding them.  Should we get a bit of honey this year it will taste of summer and herbs.  Wild Herb Honey.

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Such bounty we have received from our dear gardens.  I was surprised to see that even though I stole their tomato cage and stopped watering them the shelling, snap, and snow peas all continued to grow.  I shall try to extend their season next year.  I did not expect them to survive through summer.  The tomatoes are growing with a new vibrancy now that the sun has started to show hot on their beds.  The green beans are irrepressible and the corn is taller than me.

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Another thing taller than me is the mullein.  We let it grow in the yard instead of mowing it down and it is a powerful tool in our artillery for everything from asthma, colds, nerve pain, and digestive disorders.  This herb is a gift!

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Another gift of August is chokecherries! So many people ask me what a chokecherry tastes like and I am ever surprised that a lot of folks have not tasted the sweet taste of chokecherry jelly.  They are not eaten plain.  A small bite will taste like a drying powder in the mouth.  They are boiled with water and the juice is used to make a myriad of recipes from chokecherry tapioca to chokecherry pudding (an American Indian tribe Crow recipe eaten with deer jerky) along with chokecherry jelly that my grandmother used to make and my new favorite, chokecherry gin, that my friend Sandy made!

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There is something magical about berry stained fingers.   A sense of place and of the earth, the warmth of the day, an adorable helper, and the promise of goods to eat during the winter create a peace only found on farms.

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Though we are as busy as our bee hive, we take time to see the flowers, smell the earth after rain, bask in the sunshine, and give thanks for nature’s gifts,

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and fully enjoy summer for winter’s winds will be knocking on our doors before we are ready!

 

Welcoming Honey Bees

Welcome Honey Bees!  I’ll have a sign,

I hope they think their new digs are fine.

I feel excited like Winnie the Pooh,

We’ll have lots of sticky honey,

for sweets and a cup of tea too!

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I painted the bee hive a lovely raspberry pink.  Welcoming but not over the top.  I have read several books.  I chickened out last year.  I went to a bee keeping class Sunday that reiterated everything I read in books.  I feel I know nothing!  But when I am holding that box of rumbling bees and their medieval queen, I assume that everything I have read and seen will come back to me.  That is the hope.

A year and a half ago we had a young man build us a top bar hive.  I got cold feet last year when I got the email that the bees were in after not having enough money to buy the bee keeping accessories so I sold the bees to the bee hive builder’s brother.  The hive sat over the winter and pieces of the wood are separating and expanding.  I should have sprayed it well with a protectant.  This year I painted it a spiffy color, and sprayed it with a coating that it is now well dried and should last, since once the bees move in I won’t be doing much creative maintenance to the outside of the hive.  It looks lovely.

It is under the large oak tree.  Typically one would like to face a hive south east to avoid our winds but that would face directly into the cars on the driveway.  South is the back yard, west is the goat yard, north is the neighbors house, east is the only way to face it.  The bees have two large gardens before they have to cross the street so hopefully they stop and play in the flowers instead of running into semis.  That wouldn’t be good.  The tree will provide shade while allowing bright morning sun to hit the bee apartment complex. In the winter the old oak tree will let in all the sunshine to make the little buggers happy.

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The books and the class are rather down on top bar hives.  Why?  No one has given me a straight answer but I am forced to take all the information I have stored and transfer it to a top bar hive.  Shouldn’t be too different.  These wooden blocks on the top have an edge that we rub beeswax on so that the bees will know to start their combs across the edges.  After ten wooden blocks are filled, the ones after have honey on them for us!

I will be stacking straw bales on the north side to keep the hive incognito from our neighbor.  Not that he cares, but he has a lot of friends that come over that might.  After a few beers, I certainly don’t want it to become a shooting range.

I have my smoker.  Supposedly the best material for burning is old coffee burlap sacks.  I believe Emily’s boyfriend’s family (being in the coffee business) can help me with that one.

Doug and I got two suits, jackets with zip up masks to keep our pretty faces safe from stings.  Don’t want to look like we got in a fight.  And thick gloves joined our artillery too.

Interestingly, there are over 890 types of bees in Colorado.  Most are stingless.  I did not know that.  In the class we were inspired to forget the image of Winnie the Pooh being chased by a swarm of bees.  While working in the hive, most will not care that we are there.  Just don’t wear fur.

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The thing that is keeping me from panicking this year is that at the end of last summer we were standing in a friend’s garden and I leaned over to see the herbs that were planted there.  It was a tiny garden in the city.  I glanced up and realized I was right in front of a bee hive.  Another one stood a few feet from me.  The gentle hum of working bees filled the air but they were so preoccupied (as I was) with the herbs that they had no interest in me.

In a few weeks, we welcome honey bees!

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Bee Keeping Mama (soon to be)

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There is a bee hive on the very tip top of the hundred-plus year old building across the street from my shop.  If you stand in my doorway you can see them busily working.  Among the ornate swirls of wood, they have made their home.  I have always had a fondness for Victorian architecture myself, can’t say I blame them.  Throughout the year we help them detour out of our shop.  Enticed, no doubt, by one hundred different types of herbs and the essential oils used in the beauty products, they come in for a sniff of the lotion or to seek an unexpected flower.  They always end back up by the window desperately trying to make their retreat.  Using a saucer and a paper cup I ease them into the vessel and set them back on track outdoors.  They have never stung us or any of our customers.  They just want to get back to work!

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Homeowners and shop owners call in the companies that guarantee your yard will be beautiful and sheepishly place those little yellow flags with the woman and child and dog with a slash through them (that doesn’t mean keep off the grass, it means it will kill you!); they usually have no idea what harm they are doing.  Doug was guilty of this himself, bringing in Weed and Feed trying to keep up with the neighbors in our old neighborhood.  We just didn’t realize the impact of such a simple thing.  Weed and Feed is available everywhere this time of year.  It does cause cancer and upper respiratory ailments in humans as well as wipes out birds and butterflies and lady bugs and….bees.  The lady who owns the building next to my shop loves to spray her yard.  There are always little yellow warning flags that the bees missed scattered throughout.  And at least three dead bees a day in front of my doorstep.  Many times the bees are disoriented and wander aimlessly in front of my store as if looking for directions to get across the street before their demise.  I could make myself crazy with thoughts of the Colony Collapse Disorder and all the Weed and Feeds on the market.  I could picket the girl next door.  Or I could combat this in a positive way.  By getting a bee hive.

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Luckily for me, my friends are going to help me.  Bryan just built me a beautiful bee hive to house the new family.  His seventeen year old brother, Brett, has been giving me a bee tutorial.  Since I learn by watching and doing, he will have to come back and walk me through it!  He keeps telling me, “Order your bees, or you’re not going to have any!”  I finally have the cash today so I will get online and order a family of bees with an Italian queen.  Feels rather medieval.  Brett is teaching me organic beekeeping.  I will not take too much honey so not to break into the bees’ store for winter.  I will let them flit to and fro from plant to plant and not scream and run when I see them.  I will not be afraid of bees on masse.  I am sure it will take a minute to get used to standing among hundreds of bees but my love for them will hopefully conquer any fears!  Only .01% of the population actually has  reaction to bee stings and I am not among that number.  I am just a bit of a baby when it comes to pain.  But saving the honey bee in any way I can is more important to me!  Offering a safe home to them in an area that doesn’t use many pesticides (love this town…it’s not the same town my shop is in) is going to be great and they in turn will pollinate my trees and garden.  I’ll keep you posted on this venture!

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