52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Project #18: Preparing for bees
The bees are coming…I can hear their fragile wings beating and buzzing endlessly in my head. It sounds something like this:
“You are a complete fool. You know nothing about bees and yet you have the audacity to order not one, but two hives? Be forewarned: You will be held responsible for our deaths.”
It turns out bees are kinda mean.
With two kids in the house it is not uncommon for me to wake in the middle of the night, but over the past couple of weeks I have been waking up in fear.
I toss and turn as I wonder how many bees are going to find their way up my pants, how I am going to summon the courage to stick my hand into a hive full of bees and how I’m going to successfully keep them from swarming our neighbours. And then I wonder…Why the heck am I doing this? Why can’t I just get a dog or a cat?
Ah yes, because bees are extremely fascinating. My love affair with bees started way back in the 7th grade during the annual speech competition. While other kids spoke about hockey, pop stars and summer vacations, I enthusiastically roused my classmates to all the wonders of bees and I am telling you, by the time I was done, I’m sure every one of them wanted their own pet hive.
Or maybe not. But I must have impressed the teacher because the bees and I won. Mostly because…bees are fascinating.
Did you know that more than a hundred thousand varieties of plants would disappear if it weren’t for the bees who pollinate them? In fact, they are responsible for every third bite of food we take, according to The Good Living Guide to Beekeeping.
Not only are they industrious pollinators, but they also hold their own jobs. There are guard bees who are stationed at the hive entrance on the alert to attack any intruders. There are scout bees who search for new food sources. There are undertakers whose job it is to remove dead bees from the hive. There are even nannies who feed and care for the young.
Bees are smart. They even have their own complex language. Through interpretive figure-8 movements called the “waggle dance”, scout bees can report the distance and direction of food sources over three miles away.
They can also remember colours, landmarks and even human faces. This is a handy fact to know when I go to steal some of their honey. Now you know the real reason it is so important to wear those bee veils – camouflage. I may have to think about getting a series of different bee veil masks.
Although fascinating to study, bees are also the makers of that gorgeous, golden, sweet nectar we call honey and the world’s best wax. I have dreams of opening my own Etsy shop where I will sell all things bee related – soaps, candles, lip balm, honey hair conditioner… Hey! Don’t judge. You never know. Honey hair conditioner could become my top seller.
My hypothetical Etsy shop may or may not be profitable, but that’s not the point. The point is this could be fun…and scary.
So I pray to God every night asking Him to please let me not kill the bees. Please don’t let them swarm anyone. And please, oh please don’t let too many bees sting me.
And then I read. And I mean I read. I read so much I neglect this blog and think about giving it up because I have too much to learn. I think I must now have read every beekeeping book the library owns. You don’t believe me? Behold the bee books…
And yet…the only thing about beekeeping that I’m sure of is that it is learned through hands on experience. So with much trepidation and a fervant hope that I will somehow find myself an experienced bee mentor, I ordered two nucs.
If you would have asked me two weeks ago what a nuc was, I would have told you it stood for nuclear missiles, but no, this is what you call a small honey bee colony created from a larger one.
Since then I have spent days and days and days debating which equipment to purchase. It was an exhausting and painful process because there are several choices and I really wanted to make the best one – not only for me, but for my little bee friends. (You hear that bees! I’m going to try to be your friend.)
In the end, I went with the standard Langstroth beehive with a few modifications. I wanted to ensure my hives encompassed many of the bee friendly virtures of the Warre Hives, which are designed to mimic the bees’ natural home – a hollowed out tree.
Once my beekeeping supplies arrive, I will follow up with another post on choosing a hive, equipment and a location from the perspective of a newbie. Just what you wanted, right? Someone who doesn’t know a thing about what they are doing to pass on advice to you.
Well, sometimes the experts forget what it is like to be a beginner who knows absolutely nothing about what they are doing. So stick with me. Because things are sure to get interesting around here once the bees arrive.
I know you really want to see a video of me trying to install my bees in my hive for the first time. Now excuse me while I go back to praying.