Close Encounters of a Bee Kind

By Amanda

Yours truly: a happy beekeeper

Recently, I attended my second beekeeping class. I continued my fascination with bees as I learned more about ‘husbanding’ this tiniest of domesticated creatures. Honeybees cannot live without human interaction: an outbreak of a parasite called the varroa mite in the last decade effectively wiped out most of the feral honeybee populations in the U.S.  Although honeybees are incredibly industrious and are able to fix many problems they encounter as a colony, they need human assistance countering the onslaught of varroa or they can be effectively wiped out.

Students open up the hives

Knowing that this little colony will depend on me is a good feeling. Knowing how much they will produce in terms of reproduction and honey by this time next year is astounding: a small nucleus of 10,000 bees installed this spring will grow to 50,000 by the end of this summer. By next spring they can produce 40 pounds of honey per hive. That’s enough for a five gallon bucket.

Clearly, we are getting more comfortable with beeing around the bees!

As our class ventured to the hives at Prince George’s Community College and took turns opening hive covers, pulling out bee-covered frames, and generally gaping at the bees, I noticed that our class, myself included, was a whole lot less worried about the bees than before. In fact, we were getting downright comfortable with them. I looked behind me a few minutes after we had the hives open, and the air was literally filled with bees. We watched as our instructor, Jeff, dumped a new package of bees he received from a supplier, into a new hive. All 10,000 bees went in with a ‘shoosh’ sound like pouring of cereal.  We viewed a queen, in her little queen chamber box, kept separate from the others in the hive.  She was released from the little box by removing the cork opening, allowing her to stroll out to meet her subjects so anxious to attend to her.

In they go

In they go: bees are unceremoniously dumped into their new hive

Just a few of the thousands of bees surrounding us

The Queen in her Traveling Chamber

The queen from the package in her own little case. Clearly her worker bees are ready for her to come out.

I’ll be doing this when I get my own package of bees. Urban beekeeping is burgeoning in DC.  Those with townhouses keep them on roofs. Those with larger backyards may place them there. Keeping them away from interaction with neighbors is probably the number one priority of an urban beekeeper. Providing them good water sources so they won’t go looking in your neighbor’s dog bowl, swimming pool or bird bath. Placing them high up or with a ‘barrier’ near their opening so that their flight path goes above peoples’ heads.  One must take all this into consideration for site planning for your hive. After looking for a location to place them within all my options (I don’t have a townhouse rooftop, and my community garden wasn’t able to do bees at this time), I decided to land my little hive at my family’s place in West Virginia. My dream is to be an urban beekeeper. But until that time, I’ll get my feet wet in the safe confines of a rural landscape.

The bee palace – ready for a move in

This week I located a site for their new home, up on a hill near our house, in a pasture near some trees, for morning sun and part-day shade during the hot summers and some protection from wind in the winters. I think they will like it. For water there is a small pond nearby. For food, there is my father’s vineyard (grapes produce tiny flowers in spring that I hope they will like) along with a multitude of wildflowers in the fields. I built up a small platform to keep them more elevated against critters: skunks mostly, who love the taste of bees and are immune to their stings. I painted their box a welcoming bee-rrific yellow. I hope to get my own little colony within four weeks.

I can’t wait until I drive out there with a box of bees in my car. Now that will be a blog post!

To view more photos and videos of the beekeeping class, go to https://picasaweb.google.com/AmandaBWest/BeekeepingClass.

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