Archive for March, 2009

arboretumbees_090307_5258B: We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of suddenly seeing a subject we’re interested wherever we look, but I think that anyone, not just the bee-obsessed, would agree that nearly everywhere you look lately there are articles about bees and beekeeping. A case in point is an article in this morning’s Los Angeles Times about urban and backyard beekeeping, and bee hive rescues. Another article appeared in OC Weekly earlier this month detailing the efforts of some dedicated Backyard Beekeepers here in Orange County who do a great job rescuing feral bees.

It’s very encouraging to know that there are so many people focused on making life easier for our pollinator friends.


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CA beautiful copper roof and cleats for lifting the supers have been added.

A beautiful copper roof and cleats for lifting the boxes have been added.

B: The hive is finished! And what a beautiful hive it is. It’s so pretty that I want one even without the bees. But, bees it will have. We’re counting down the days until our little bees arrive on April 10th. That will be a momentous day and like Penelope Cruz giving her Oscar acceptance speech, Mary Beth will be thinking, if not saying, “Has anybody ever fainted up here?” Getting all the bees into the hive will be stress inducing enough, but then there’s the business of the queen in her little cardboard tube. It will be hung between the frames and the queen’s loyal subjects must eat through the candy plug on the end to release her from her sweet prison. Oh my!

MB: Yesterday I was lying down on the garden bench enjoying the warmth of the sun and the antics of two little chickadees who were exploring the new birdhouses I put up. A little honeybee flew over and buzzed around my hands making me smile. This was my first honeybee sighting of the year and she seemed to be telling me that it is almost bee season. As I said a quiet hello Sage (see workshop dogs below) ran over and chased her away, not once, but twice! I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be the kind of behavior I want her to have around the bees. We will have a talk.

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Things in Bee World have been a little quiet. We’ve had other distractions — birthday parties, out-of-town relatives coming to visit, and, the biggest distraction of all, working to pay the bills. But here’s what’s happened in the last few days.

Kea approves.

Kea approves.

The lower deep hive body — the brood chamber, and the upper deep hive body — the food chamber, have been painted with milk paint in the most beautiful shade of sky blue. The shallow honey supers are painted a lighter shade of blue. The cinder block foundation for the hive has been set level into the ground. Mary Beth chose this location because it’s near the garden and a water source, facing south so the rising sun wakes the bees.

This is where the hive will live — a pond in front and the garden behind.

This is where the hive will live — a pond in front and the garden behind.

Mary Beth ordered the things she forgot in the first round. (I have a feeling that’ll happen a few more times before we get it all figured out.) The big oops was neglecting to order the foundation pins. They’re what she’ll need to hold the wax foundations in the frames. The bees will build them out with their combs which will hold the honey and the baby bees. (Larvae really, but baby bees sounds so much cuter.)

And, yes, those of you who actually know what you are doing will probably have noticed that she ordered the wrong size foundations for the supers, so the right ones are in this order, along with a hive tool and some Honey B Healthy, a feeding stimulant.

MB: That brings us to the next important detail — what will the bees use for sustenance? Since I have new hives and it’s early spring, the bees won’t have any stored honey for food and it’ll be too early for flower nectar. So I’m going to feed them sugar water until nectar begins to flow. And to keep the hive as healthy as possible in this first year, I probably won’t harvest any honey, leaving it instead for the bees to eat.  On average a hive can produce about 100 pounds of honey, but this is my first year so who knows? The hive will need 60 to 80 pounds of honey to survive the winter and tide the bees over until the nectar begins to flow the following spring. Anything beyond that will be ours to enjoy and share with friends and family. And believe me, they’re already lining up.

And speaking of how much honey weighs, lifting the supers won’t be easy. A medium super can weigh in at 50 to 60 pounds and I’m definitely going to need help. I may have to get a bee suit for Ray. (Shh! I haven’t told him yet.)

In the meantime, I’ve been working in the gardens. I’ve planted 3 kinds of carrots, 2 varieties of chard, spinach, broccoli, watercress, arugula, onions, leeks and 3 kinds of lettuce. I used some old windows over the raised beds for makeshift cold frames to get things going. I also got my indoor flats set up with grow lights and a heating pad. Mmm, I can smell and taste those tomatoes already!

As I opened the seed packets and started the tedious task of planting, I remembered helping my father prepare the gardens for the coming season when he no longer had the strength to do it himself. He dug the first of these garden beds more than 40 years ago and they were his pride and joy. He taught me so much as I worked in the dirt beside him. It feels good to carry his legacy on another year and to relive those happy memories. I know he would’ve been as excited as we are about adding a hive to his gardens. He would have enjoyed watching the bees. The garden will make the bees happy, and the bees will make these gardens happy!

Thanks, Dad.

Dad in his garden.

Dad in his garden...

Watering seedlings.

watering seedlings.

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In this morning’s New York Times Marian Burros writes that Michelle Obama will plant an organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn near Sasha and Malia’s swing set. To which we say, “Finally!” But the really big news is that there will also be two beehives in the garden. White House carpenter Charlie Brandts, who is a beekeeper, will be tending the hives. Wonders never cease!

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yellowbeeWhat’s a bee blog without pictures of bees?! Our bees won’t be here for a few more weeks, but we had some pictures of spring bees taken at the Fullerton Arboretum. Aren’t the little creatures amazing?


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The bees need a home. They arrive on Block Island around April 10th and they’ll need a place to live. There’s a lot more to this than you might imagine. Not that it’s not doable, but whooee.


The hive will go near the pond.

The brush needs to be cleared from the area where the hive will go, but that will have to wait until the snow melts.  In the meantime, crank up the space heater. We’re going out to the workshop to build a Langstroth Beehive. Mary Beth will build the frames  — 50 of them. And her husband Ray, an extremely talented carpenter, will build the deep hive frames and the supers.

The man can work a hammer!

The man can work a hammer!

The picture shows one of the supers with 10 frames inside. The bees will build their honeycombs on these frames. When it comes time to place the hive, we’ll have to be careful to get it exactly level or the combs won’t be straight and we won’t be able to pull them out of the supers.

MB: I started with every intention of getting all the frames done today, but I forgot to factor in the dogs, Ray and the fact that I’m always trying to figure out how do things quicker. Never mind that there is usually a reason to do it the other way.

First there was the carrot cake I promised Ray — bribed is the word — if he would go get the finish nailer from the job site. Then the dogs got bored and I had to run them so they wouldn’t drive me crazy while I was working with sharp objects.

Kia & Sage

Kea & Sage

Finally, there’s the realization that if I had actually built the jig for the frames, things might have gone a LOT faster. So much for my time-saving ideas.

Some other things that gave us pause as we worked:
• Do we put the rough side of the recycled cedar that we’re using for the hive bodies in or out? Decided out.
• Is the spacing between the frames in the hive bodies and supers right? It seems like a lot of space. Measured it all again and it’s what it’s supposed to be. The problem is we’ve never seen the inside of a hive before.
• Do I nail all those little nails in myself or should I use the nail gun? Curse words begin to fly. Decide to use the nail gun.

I’m starting to think that a top bar hive might be less expensive, less labor intensive and easier to take care of. Maybe I should do both kinds of hives so I can compare. I wonder if it’s to late to add to my bee order?

Here’s a list of the supplies I’ve gotten so far:

1 – Queen excluder wood bound 10 frame

2 – 1 lb. Thin surplus 4 3/8″ X 16 1/2″
3 – Frames 6 1/4 WTB GBB C/10
2 – Frames 9 1/8 WTB GBB C/10
2 – 10 SH. WIRED 8 1/2\” X 16 3/4
6 – frame spacers
1 – cotton/poly zipper veil hooded suit
1 – Hive Top Feeder
1 – leather vent gloves
1 – Smoker 4 x 7 with Shield Stainless Steel
1 – Wood Entrance Reducer
1 – Bee Brush

Total so far is a little over $200.

Oops! Forgot to order the hive tool. Oh well, I’ll get it when I order the equipment for the honey extraction, later — much later. Had to hold my breath when I placed this order.

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I heard a rumor that my sister, a talented gardener, was about to become a beekeeper. Rumors of this sort being possible because we have a large family and this is how we let each other know what’s going on in our lives — we tell one sister, who tells another sister, who tells our brother, and on and on.

The rumor, unlike some, was true. Beekeeping! What an amazing idea! I was so amazed that I thought it deserved to be documented and that’s what this blog aims to do. My sister, Mary Beth and I will document the evolution of the hive and we’ll share the unvarnished truth about what it takes to become a beekeeper.

Stay tuned.

Oh, wait. I bet you’re wondering about the chicks. That was the other part of this particular rumor — that my sister would also be getting some chickens. I thought this was at least as fabulous as the bees idea. Unfortunately, she’s run into a few speed bumps as far as the chicks are concerned. So, for now, the chicks part refers to us — Mary Beth and Barbara.

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