Accidental Bee Keepers

See that in the middle of the meadow? Sitting in what used to be the burn pile? That’s what our neighbors work up to Sunday morning. A few of them weren’t sure what it was but one knew. Ed said when he work up on Sunday, his wisteria was covered in bees and when he saw the box, he knew exactly what was going on. the Bees of Redemption have gone to work. Our neighbors are surprisingly excited, too. Yet another reason to love the ranch.

Although we had meant to become beekeepers this year, we did not intend to become bee keepers this week. It all started last year when I bought Dave a beginners beekeeping package from Bear Foot Honey. Since he already takes care of our worms, it seemed like a natural choice to for him to choose bees as his next project. He got some books on bees and tried to read up. The first book that he got from his friend, Dr. Homesteader, was way to technical for someone who didn’t know a thorax from a brood box. The second book was OK but we left it on top of Chaos’s kennel when she was still a youth and she pulled it through the bars and ate it, velociraptor style. Dave is currently reading a book we got from Mountain Feed, in Ben Lomond, which carries a great selection of beekeeping books and supplies. (I feel like I should hit them up for advertising since I talk about them so much.) Our newest book is called Beekeeping in Coastal California, by Jeremy Rose and it is our favorite so far. It has a great section on native plants that are the primary source of food for pollinators during each month, which has been very helpful in deciding what sort of bee friendly hedges we should plant.

The bee keeping package I got Dave came with the hive and bees, as well as two classes. Since they are in Santa Rosa, a good 2.5 hour drive from here, we scheduled both classes on the same day. On Saturday, we got up at 6am (so much for my leisurely weekends) and drove to Santa Rosa. The are around Santa Rosa is stunningly beautiful so the drive was enjoyable. When we got to Bear Foot Honey, we were early enough to enjoy a pastry and chatted with Fred, the owner’s father, a lifetime veteran bee keeper, an educated conspiracy theorist and our instructor for the day. He was a very interesting man. We also met a fellow classmate who lives in Boulder Creek, just around the corner from our Ben Lomond house. Small world!

Fred spent the first part of the class overwhelming us with information about diseases of the hives. His theory is that with the information out there on the internet, you can learn to be a bee keeper without ever talking to one in person, so he aims to teach a class that you can’t get on the internet. He was a font of historical knowledge. His lifetime has seen all the modern changes in bee keeping especially, as it related to Colony Collapse Disorder, which he says is a phrase that makes it easy for the people to understand a complicated concept. He likens the phrase CCD to calling the movement that marked the end of WWII, D-Day. We don’t talk about all the battles that lead up to it, the complicated, tactical movements of troops that day or the after effects. We just say D-Day and everyone knows what that means. CCD is the same. It has a complicated history, it’s the result of several different factors and diseases, and we aren’t really sure how best to handle it right now but each bee keeper has their own method. Instead of trying to talk about Varroa Mites and poor hive management practices, we just say CCD and we know what that means. All the science boils down to this: bees are dying. All of us in the class on Saturday wanted to be part of the solution. In our own way, we were all getting on a boat to Normandy.

Fred didn’t lack for opinions. He’s clearly well read on American history, politics and bees. He contends that Varroa mites were purposely brought to the Americas by the Chinese government, via Mexico, in order to bring down American honey production and give China a foot hold on the world honey market. Part of me chuckles at this, part of my thinks there’s a possibility that he’s right. I have a little conspiracy theorist in me, too. Historically speaking, he is right about how the mites got here. they did come from Asian honey bees which are immune to the stomach ulcers the mites cause. They were imported to Mexico during their economic collapse. I’m just not sure the intent was sinister. But it could have been.

In the afternoon, we put on our face nets over our fabulous cowboy hats and we headed out to the hives. Fred insisted we should all learn to handle the bees with our bare hands. After watching him with them, I wasn’t afraid to touch them. With the bees buzzing around, I felt confident helping Fred move bees out from under the lid of the bx so they didn’t get squished.

Excuse the photo quality, we forgot the camera so we had to take photos using Dave’s cell phone.

After the class was over, we were picking up some honey items in the Bear Foot Honey store (creamed lemon honey is amazing) when the owner, Cheryl, asked why we didn’t just take our bees today so so we didn’t have to drive all the way to Santa Rosa again. I could see a flash of panic in Dave’s eyes. He wasn’t ready. We thought we had more time. What if we weren’t ready, we would kill them. What if something went wrong…what if..what if. What if we just took them home and gave it a shot? With the exception of the diseases that can be controlled, bees have been doing their thing for centuries. Who are we to think we could break down the hive structure and kill them off that quickly? So knowing we had all the support we needed from Cheryl and family, we agreed to come back at dark, after the bees had settled and pick up our hive.

So we drove home with a box of bees in the back seat. I called my step-mom to play” guess what’s in my back seat, today.” She didn’t guess, so I had to tell her. When we got to the ranch, Dave and I braved marching through the chest high meadow grass to set the hive on cinder blocks in the former burn pile. Then we went home and slept like the dead after our 18 hour day.

We woke up the next day and could hardly wait to check on the girls. We are supposed to leave the hive alone for 48 hours so all we could really do was observe the girls from the outside. Right away I could see that most of the bees landing at the door of the hive were carrying lots of pollen with them. Clearly, they had found a good food source. Here they are dancing in the doorway:

Chaos doesn’t know what to do with the bees. We’re working on training her to not snap at them, both for the bees safety and her own.

It looks like our hive is thriving. I look forward to watching our hive grow and someday, getting to try our very own Redemption honey. Check out our Facebook page for more photos of our hive and our class.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by husband on May 5, 2011 at 06:40

    Sure I’ll bee careful. I just hope the bees will bee nice.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jules on May 5, 2011 at 18:52

      very funny dad…anyways i wonder if the bee’s like to dance to the balck eyed peas ‘Imma be’

      Reply

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