Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Accidental Beekeeper

I caved.

Two or three days ago, the new hive in the tree formed another hive, and that new clump has been a little antsy. I didn't know if they were missing a queen, and so searching for a new place -- there was comb started at the old location -- or just wanting a better home than the exposed tree. So today, I finally got through to a local bee guy -- someone who will come and relocate swarms for people -- and he gave me the lowdown on moving a swarm into a new hive.

He told me to make a simple syrup, then to wait until sunset or so, to spray a cardboard box with it (in the absence of any real beekeeping equipment), spray the bees (he said it would both calm them and stick their wings together, which cracked me up), then either brush the bees into the box or clip the branch if it were small enough to do so. He also told me where to order a hive box, frames, and foundations.

Near the end of our conversation, I said, "I just have one more beginner's question: Am I going to get stung?"

He said, "Yes, you're probably going to get stung."

"Oh. Well, but I've given birth four times -- I'm okay with pain."

Do you not have a veil?" [Note: this was said as though it were common household equipment, like postage stamps. ]"You really don't want to get stung in the face."

I had to agree there. Then, inspiration struck. "I have my daughter's fencing mask!"

"That'll do!"

So I called and ordered the Beginner's Kit #1, made simple syrup, got a free box from Kinko's, and bought a new spray bottle, the last one being spirited away by some child or another in my house. I also cobbled together a terrific bee suit, made up of the mask, my leather jacket, a hooded sweatshirt over the mask, jeans, Eric's woodworking gloves, and my gardening boots.

I also made my spouse record the whole operation.

The ladder wasn't quite high enough for safe operation, but I figured that I'd be too worried about the bees to worry about falling to my death or disablement.

So, here's the result:

I climbed right to that step on the ladder with the warning label on it about how you're so absolutely not, NOT EVER, supposed to stand on it. It's just there to be leaned on. I stood on it. I turned around, so I was facing the wrong way. I raised my arms and squirted the bee clump. Squirt, squirt, then my sprayer clogged. I figured I'd sprayed enough. I started to get the box under them and clip the (fortunately very slim) branch they'd swarmed to:


They got a little testy at this point. I don't think they expected that jolt.

Even with them being fairly agitated, they weren't attacking, just kind of flying around with a "Hey, what's going on? Oh, no you don't!" kind of vibe. One bee rode my arm a long time, and it was very odd to see them on the mask.

Hey, presto -- boxed bees.

I was so excited that it had gone that smoothly and I wasn't lying on the ground with a broken neck that I could hardly walk across the yard with the box.

There were no stingers in my jacket, no stings on my body. Now that I'm seriously convinced that these are Quite Nice Bees, I'm going to have to learn how to help them do well. This is all assuming that somewhere in that rugby-ball-sized clump is a queen. I have a couple of books ordered from the library, and the Bee Guy said the kit I'd ordered would have a booklet that would tell me everything. I figure it's like anything else; I'll just learn as I go, and the bees will probably be good teachers. Now I'm going to have to reread The Secret Life of Bees to see how to greet the (hopefully resident) queen.

Garden? Check.
Chickens? Check.
Bees? Check.

Can goats be far behind?


Rain said...

Excellent idea with the fencing mask. I had a really good giggle when I read that bit.

I think it's fantastic that you're keeping them. You definitely need a goat next - an angora goat so you can spin your own mohair.

amy said...

Awesome! I'm so impressed. Seriously, I bow to your homemakerness. Not kidding.

Janis said...

Hey toots...
I was going to get hives and so I checked it all out. There is a shop in Petaluma that has everything you need for bees.

I never seen my fencing mask used in such a "creative" way. I like it. Let me know how it goes because I have been thinking of doing the bee thing for years.

jen said...

My word.

I leave this blog unattended for a few days and look at what you've been up to when I come back! Germination photos! Polenta in the neck rolls! And, most brilliantly of all, bestowing moving day on an unsuspecting swarm of bees!

Mmmm... garden-fresh tabouli.

You know those silly reality shows where the wifey switches families for a few days? If I had to do that, I'd totally pick yours!

Shhh... I would so. :)

aurora said...

Oh wow! I am so impressed with the harvesting of the bees, and the fact that they didn't sting you through your special bee-suit.

It sounds like goats are quite close behind, really...but that could be a v. good thing :-)

amanda j said...

Wow, well done. I am constantly impressed by your exploits! Bee happy!

Brittany said...

Oh my god that is FASCINATING. I'd be scared to death. Go go go, Wonderwoman!

I loved your bee photos in the previous post. I showed SO. At first he didn't notice, but when he did he was blown away.

String Bean said...

Goats would be a great addition! They're wonderfully useful and personable creatures. Every home should have a few goats (mine included).

Congrats on mingling with the bees!
I'd be terrified to clip the branch.

Liana said...

Skip the goats and go directly to sheep! Wool of course, but you can also make bleu cheese. We found a (now antique) smoker in one of the farm buildings, and it looks exactly like yours. It's from at least 80 years ago. Must be a good design. :)