Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bees!!! (Part 1)

I spent most of the morning yesterday with my new friend Jim, building our first bee hive.  Jim has been a bee keeper for over 35 years.  We met him at a party last fall and had an interesting conversation about bees, hives, getting stung...all the things he's probably been asked a thousand times.  Jim and his brother keep six hives near their family home in Crawfordsville, Indiana - about 90 miles away.  He offered to help us set up a hive, if we were ever interested.  I contacted him in December to say we were ready.  Jim ordered the basic supplies - the hive boxes, or "woodenware" as he calls it, where the bees will live - and the bees.  The boxes shipped within a week from a supplier in Kentucky.  They came as a kit with precut boards, nails, and instructions.

I met Jim at his house on Saturday morning and he showed me into his basement workshop.  Jim has also been a wood worker for many years.  His shop was neat, orderly and contained practically any hand or power tool you might need to build fine furniture.  He led me through the construction of the hive boxes, all the while giving me a tutorial on bees, bee keeping techniques, and metallurgy (his career before he retired).

The basic hive boxes.

We completed the four basic boxes in about an hour, then began on the frames.  Each box will have ten frames, suspended like hanging files.  The frames each hold a thin plastic sheet embossed with a honey comb pattern.  The bees will excrete wax to build the honey comb, following the pattern on the plastic sheets.  Then they'll get to work making honey.

Frames hanging in the hive box.
We assembled 6 or 8 of the frames for one of the boxes - enough for me to understand how to do it.  I brought the remaining pieces home and will work on them over the next couple of weeks.  Jim kept the boxes and will give them a coat of paint.  

Our bees will arrive in early May- shipped in a small cage via the US Postal Service!  We will be getting Russian bees.  According to Jim, bees were not native to North America.  The early settlers brought them over, most originally came from Italy.  Russian bees, he told me, were a more docile variety - good for the beginning bee keeper - though in his opinion, meaner bees make more honey.  

The queen bee will be in a separate container within the package of bees.  She will be accompanied by a few worker bees.  The container will be closed with a plug made of sugar, which the queen and the workers will eat to get out into the new hive.  There will be a period of acclimation to the new environment, but within a few days the new colony should be settled and working.  

We're looking forward to this new experience, though we're approaching it with some caution.  Mary is mildly allergic to bee stings, and I've had a lifelong fear of flying insects with stingers.  But we'll get the right equipment - the suits, gloves and veiled hats - and some tutoring from Jim.  I expect there will be some challenges.  (Why should this be different from anything else we've tried here at the farm?)  I expect we'll get stung a few times.  But in the end, I expect it will work out well.  The bees will do some useful work for us - pollinating the garden and the orchard, and they'll make honey, too.  For now, I'll stay focused on that sweet reward.  

Stay tuned...more to come!


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