There might be flies on some of you guys,
But there's Bees on me!
Well, we now have three colonies of bees to go along with the rest of our farm critters*. As some of you already know, on our farm we raise flowers for folks to cut. Most of our flowers are the old fashion/heirloom varieties such as Zinnias, Cone Flowers, roses and Sunflowers. Last year we started to notice that we had honey bees visiting our flowers, trees and wild blackberries. We believe that the bees were coming from our friend's farm (West Wind Farm Vineyard and Winery) about one-quarter mile away - as the bee flies. We thought that it was great that their bees were also hard at work on our place as well!
Then it dawned on us that having our own bees might be fun and we would then get to enjoy the fun range of benefits of having bees, from pollination to nature's golden nectar, honey! Honey poured over hot, buttered, thick-sliced corn bread is so decadently good, it should be served by slave girls in short Roman togas**!
Our son Jon (Recon Cornelius on NV) took a beekeeper course taught by one of the graduate assistants from the Ag Department at Virginia Tech and our plan took solid form. The instructor visited our farm and helped us site the best location for our planned hives. We then dealt with Brushy Mountain Bee Farm near North Wilkesboro, NC, for all of our hives, equipment and bees: They are nice folks to deal with.
After getting the hives, the Missus painted them white and the three of us built a platform to place them on. (Yes, the missus insisted that the hives be cute! (I'm the un-cutest thing on the farm, right behind our compost bins!)) And then the waiting began: It was late-April before we could get our bees. So on the appointed day, our son and his friend Brooke drove down and picked them up one Saturday while the Missus and our daughter Tina were manning our booth at a local garden show. The fun (and worrying) began when Jon and Brooke got the bees to the farm.
My son and I donned the hats and veils and started the bee installation into the hives following the instructions supplied by Brushy Mountain and relying on our son's training. For new beekeepers, the moment that you open the small, screen-enclosed shipping containers containing roughly 5,000 bees, all the old, B-grade movies about swarms of stinging insects, spring to mind! But first you have to move the queen bee into the hive. The queen was housed in her own small enclosure suspended inside the larger bee enclosure. The queen's little cage was stoppered with a cork which we removed and we then hung the queen's enclosure inside the hive between two racks. We had our three queens clipped to keep them from flying away and taking their colonies with them (swarming) and marked to better spot them later when checking on the health of the hive.
Also suspended inside the shipping cage was a can of high-fructose syrup with several small holes punched in the bottom so the bees could eat while in transit. Most of the bees were clustered around the can. You have to get the bees off the can so it can be removed creating the opening for the bees to get out: To get the bees off the can, you smack the cage on the ground! That knocked them off the can and increased the buzzing sound level dramatically. After removing the can, we upended the cage over the hive and shook! Bees fell out into the hive and started going everywhere! (Remember those old B-grade movies...) This proved to be the most dramatic moment in the installation process.
After shaking the bees into the hive, we installed a feeder on top of the hive and poured in about two gallons of syrup to feed the bees until there was enough blooms available for the bees to draw from. Then we put the top back on and installation was complete. We did this for each of the three hives. During all this process my son and I were suited up in our protective gear and Brooke was wearing a skirt and blouse but she was elbow to elbow with us, taking photos of the process. It wasn't until we had left the three hives that Brooke finally got stung: Jon and I didn't get a scratch! Apparently, she had a bee on her skirt and it wasn't until she sat down that she got stung.
One week later, the Missus, Jon and I checked on the hives by removing the feeders, locating the queens and in general, checking on hive activity. Things looked good in all three hives. But during the week between installation and checking them, all we did was worry! We would look at the hives several times a day and from the amount of activity at the hive entrance, we would try to figure out if it appeared "normal". At one point the Missus actually went to the back of one hive and put her ear to it to see if she could hear any activity! Her smile told me that she heard bees! The bees had already produced a good amount of comb and started filling it with food for the brood.
I feel in a small way that I am just the next in my family to honor the tradition of being a beekeeper. Every generation of my family has had one or more beekeepers: I have now added my generation to that tradition. I hope that I can do as good a job with our bees as my Uncle Bill, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather, etc.
*About 100+ white Homing pigeons, Noah the sheep, five farm geese, about 30 chickens, hundreds of fish, Miss Kitty and her five brand-new kitties (story to follow) and five indoor felines to whom we all report...
** Any of my Newsvine Goddess Friends that are interested can send me their toga sizes and I'll send directions to the farm...