First the Birds, Now the Bees
Every good gardener has bees, at least that is what I told Tyler when I announced we would be adding pollinating geniuses to the family. To my surprise, he immediately agreed and was particularly excited about the prospect of producing & selling our own honey. So last fall, as things were wrapping up in the garden, I began to research what it was going to take to become a beekeeper.
Step One: I took a two-week online Beginner Beekeeping course through the Ontario Beekeeping Association. This course covered bee biology, communication and life cycle, hive equipment and protective gear, how to get started and how to harvest. The course was complete with reading material and excellent videos by the head of the Apiary Research Center at the University of Guelph, one of Canada’s top bee research facilities.
Did you know that honeybees are Eusocial Organisms? In essence, this means that multi-generations take cooperative care of their young together and share the division of labour throughout the hive. Bees do much more than just co-exist...they share the workload and help each other.
Step Two: I began to research where to purchase the hive equipment and our nuc, which in bee-talk is a small cardboard box containing a young colony with a queen, workers, drones, food and brood, all residing on four frames where they will build their comb. I selected a well-known & trusted facility called The Dancing Bee in Port Hope, Ontario.
Did you know that bees use dance to communicate? Forager bees will do a waggle dance to communicate the location of food. The choreography of the dance includes a figure eight flight pattern with a waggle in the middle that conveys the angle of the food source to the sun and the direction to fly. The more vigorous the dance, the better the food source...they will even share samples to validate their discovery.
Step Three: Tyler and I attended a workshop. While I learned a great deal from the online course, I thought it was essential for us to get hands on experience before picking up our own colony. The course was a four-hour seminar, which included an indoor lecture and a bee yard experience. There are lots of dos and don’ts when it comes to handling bees and we needed to have a solid grasp of the fundamentals.
Did you know that bees don’t want to sting you? We often associate bees & wasps as the same creature but they are not. Wasps are carnivorous jerks that have no problem harassing people and not to mention they are terrifying looking. Bees are docile, consume only pollen & nectar and don’t want to sting you because that means sacrificing their life. As a result, they will only sting when they feel threatened. To demonstrate, our instructor shook approximately 20 bees onto my hand and they gently wandered around my arm, no sting to be had.
Step Four: We picked up our equipment and assembled & painted the boxes. From there we selected a quiet, south facing location on our property. Bees like to be south facing so the sun warms the box in the morning. They also prefer low traffic areas for easy exits & entrances.
Did you know bees like to be a little crowded, but not too crowded? If they feel there is not enough space in the hive, they will produce a new queen and half the hive will leave (called Swarming) and they don’t come back! This means it’s very important to monitor your hive. Once the frames in the box are 70% full of honey, pollen and brood, it time to add a new box on top of the current to give them more space to grow. But, you don’t want to do this too early because the bees need to be in close quarters to be able to control the temperature in the hive. If there is too much space and not enough bees, the temperature in the hive can drop too low, harming the bees.
Step Five: We picked up the nuc, with approximately 8,000 new bee friends living inside, strapped it in the bed of our truck and headed home. The plan was to move the four frames from the cardboard nuc box into our wood brood box the next afternoon but Mother Nature threw a wrench our way. For three solid days, it rained hard and heavy with a cold nip in the air. Moving the bees into their new home in this weather could have resulted in severe harm to the colony. So, we consulted a bee expert who advised us to move the nuc into our garage and put out sugar water and plain water for them. Happily, on the fourth day, we awoke to sunny skies and were able to move the bees into their forever home.
As of writing this post, we have had the bees just under a month and have handled them twice. They are settling in nicely, producing honey, storing pollen and making babies! We’ve been able to spot the Queen, who looks healthy and strong and have named her Mama June. The colony is not quite ready to have a second box added but we are closely monitoring to prevent swarming. Lastly, and perhaps the number one question on your mind…have we been stung yet? Despite choosing not to wear the protective gear because it makes us feel clumsier and more likely to harm the bees, we have not yet been stung…fingers crossed it stays that way! We will be opening up the hive again this weekend…many more updates to come my friends.