Tales of a Terrible Bee Keeper

I’m more of a cat person, really.  But as a farmer, I love pollinators.  Birds, butterflies, especially bees help to ensure that we will have crops.  I wanted to help them out in any way I could (and perhaps have a bit of honey for my tea) so I set up a hive.

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My friends were using top bar hives so I did too.  The problem is that one of those friends is now deceased and the other probably tired of my questions and problems.  No one else I know, bee keepers from all over, has any clue about top bar hives.  Books exclude them.  A general shh surrounds the subject.  This is a problem because as you know from reading my adventures I can surely make a mess of things if not shown properly how to do it in the first place.  Such was the occasion yesterday when a mini-size Revolutionary War occurred on the grasses of our new homestead where now lie dozens of dead bodies and a meager pot of beeswax.

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It started out with good intentions, Brett told us to go check the hive now that we had moved it.  Make sure the combs hadn’t fallen down, make sure the queen is alive, make sure…oh, I don’t remember what else.  They were busily working on their nineteenth frame.  Imagine that!  Such a good year for bees.  Originally we heard to save them ten frames to get through the winter but with the talk of an upcoming hard winter, fifteen became their larder.  Four for me.  Luckily, or not so luckily, one of the combs had indeed fallen down.  Doug went inside for a large pot and some tongs.  We realized how fragile the comb was as it continued to break into pieces which made it very difficult to get it into the pot, honey dripped everywhere, bees trapped in their own creation, the rest growing in increasing anger.  We moved the next frame and part of it broke off.  I panicked, sudden vision of all of the combs breaking under the force of our knife trying to see if everyone was alright and inevitably smothering the whole bunch.  We took out the frame we had just messed with, content to harvest two frames and leave the kingdom alone.  Not so easy.

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The entire outside of the frame was sticky and a hundred or so bees would not let go of the comb.  Meanwhile in the pot where the four pieces of comb and honey lay, another several dozen bees tried desperately to get the honey back out.  As we placed the other comb on top (or threw it, I can’t remember, the bees were really mad at us at this point) the bees on the bottom layer melted into the honey and buzzed to their death.  The bees would not leave the pot.  In the middle of the night we went out and tried to scoop them out, they fell here and there, died in their sticky grave, huddled together in a swarm.  They were not giving me one ounce of honey.  I had not read about any of this.  Books make things look so seamless.

What I ended up with.  I have the rest back to the bees.

What I ended up with. I gave the rest back to the bees.

I have bees because between the fight against genetically modified crops and mass use of chemical pesticides we have killed a vast amount of the bee population.  I care about their survival.  I care about my own Queen Victoria and her hive.  I care!  Yet for a few tablespoons of honey I inadvertently killed a hundred bees.  Was it worth it?  I think I must have done something wrong…

Note: After writing this, I spoke to a few different bee keepers that said, “That’s all the bees that died?  You did good!”  Uh.  I guess I know more than I think!

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.