Bee Keeping with The Christensen's - Step One
Wow! March has been a bit of a whirlwind and I find myself sitting down to write another post and its freakin' April! We have several plates spinning at the moment: we are getting started on our next home build, working on preparing for our bees, more general clearing and cleaning on the propety (this one is never ending), shooting and submitting applications to join some of our favorite sailing vloggers...oh, and adding new baby chicks to our Chickensen family! Whew - more blogs and vlogs on all of that to come. Today I wanted to focus on our bees - why are we getting them, what hive and supplies are we using and how will we apply what we learned from the recent bee seminar we attended.
Why are we getting bees?
So, I heard this crazy idea the other day that bees are like super important to our ecosystem and without them we would be like screwed (I'm saying this in my best valley-girl voice). Only it's not a crazy idea, but a somewhat troubling reality. Bees are an integral part of life on Earth, and essential for the pollination of foods that humans consume. One in every three bits of food that we take is all thanks to bees. Our world would be very bleak without our bee friends and this is a huge motivator for us. First, we want to support the natural bee population. We have several bees that frequent our property for all the goodness that is offers them, but we would love to introduce even more into our general vicinity.
Secondly, remember that whole pollination thing? Yea, we want to take advantage of that too. We have planted over 100 fruit trees and countless other edible plants, creating our very own food forest. Having bees will help promote the cross pollination of plants necessary for them to bare fruit/food. It's humans working with the environment instead of against the environment at it's finest. The circle of life! Think about it. The bees help pollinate the plants, the plants produce food for us, we consume said food and provide our chickens with the scraps. They, in turn, consume the scraps and are badasses at generating compost along with the most delicious eggs you've ever tasted. We can then use the compost to nurish more plants which will...you guessed it, provide pollen for the bees to make their honey and sustain their colony. Ok- so my thoughts may have just taken us on a "figure-eight" of life instead of a circle- but you get the idea. We want to live in harmony with the earth and adding bees in another big step in doing that.
Finally, we cannot deny that we will enjoy some amazing, home-grown honey. While we cannot wait for this delicious benefit to having a bee colony, we only plan on harvesting honey in proportion to the colony size, just for ourselves, and paying very close attention that the bees have the stores that they need to feed themselves. Bees have survived for ages making their own food, and our preference is to allow them to "do what they do" instead of "feeding" them sugar water long term.
What Hive and Supplies are We Using?
(Please note: none of this is sponsored and we are sharing info from one bee keeper to another)
As with everything we do, a ton of research hours went into determining exactly how we wanted to host a colony of bees. Our number one priority is allowing the bees to do what they would do naturally and interfere as little as possible...(I'm pretty sure the bees know how to take care of themselves better than we ever could)!
A Warre hive felt like the best choice to provide the best environment for the bees according us. I'd like to make a quick note that we all feel differently about what is best for our pets, family, property, etc. I am not saying that the Warre hive is the best. I am saying that based on our research and the way in which we would like to host bees, this is the hive of our choosing.
When choosing a hive, I think one must take into consideration what they want out of the bees. If we were looking for honey production, we may have choosen another top-bar hive design or Langstroth (which is most common). As explained above, honey production is not our priority. The Warre hive is a version of a top-bar hive that is stacked vertically. It allows the bees to build the comb however they see fit considering size and shape. This hive seems to be the least obtrusive in the bees natural lifestyle. Many Langstroth hives have a screen of sorts that the bees build their comb on. After the honey is harvested, the basic structure of the comb typically stays and the bees do not rebuild comb, but rather refill comb. We feel that this can promote possible disease in the hive and therefore prefer not to have anything for which the bees to build on other than the top-bar. It is more resource intensive for the bees to reconstruct comb after a harvest, but there will be less "old comb" in the hive and less possibility for disease or parasites. There will inevitably be less honey since that is what the bees will need to fuel up for construction, but again, more natural and better for the bees in the long run.
We purchased our Warre hive from Bee Thinking (https://www.beethinking.com/) along with our jackets, gloves, hats and veils. Bee Thinking along with Sweet Valley Hives (http://www.sweetvalleyhives.com/) both have great information on hive styles and beekeeping in general if you want to check them out. They both have helpful videos on YouTube as well.
Oh yeah...and the bees themselves. We have chosen to order our bees from BeeWeaver Apiaries, located in Navasota, TX. After researching all the local apiaries, we decided that BeeWeaver's philosophy of bee keeping aligned best with ours and felt that we would get the healthiest and strongest bees from them, and appreciate all the time and effort they have put into raising the bees up to the point where we take over.
How We Will Apply What We've Learned
Several elements of our learning have already been applied in our selection of hive and materials. There were several great nuggets of learning that we gained from our recent trip to our local bee keeping seminar, though, that we will implement with the arrival of our new colony. (Here's that video link if you'd like to revisit our nuggets: https://youtu.be/mUzbhEtTYNI)
One of the classes I attended was all about how to set up your hive and what to do when your bees arrive. We are getting what is called a "Package" of bees. This is a small, rectangular case holding approximately three pounds (1.36 Kg) of bees, which is roughly 10,000 worker bees. The case also holds a queen, held in a protective case with a plug of candy on the bottom. Finally, there is sugar water food for their transport. We will install them using the methods listed in this video (https://youtu.be/Q1j4cxweHxY and allow them to start setting up shop in their fabulous new home!
There is obviously a plethora of food for the bees, so the scouts will have a lot of waggle dancing to do in order to show the other bees all the great places to gather pollen, but water is an important element as well. There are several locations around the property that contain water, but we have made sure to provide standing support for the bees so they can get the water they need and get out safely. This has been done using screens over barrels (which helps with the mosquitoes too) and rocks/sticks in the water as well, just depending on what the water is used for and what makes the most sense. There is also a creek one property over, so they should be all set!
Careful placement of the queen is a must, so we will be sure to not commit the ultimate bee keeping sin of pulling out the candy cork. This candy cork is slowly eaten away by the bees; slowly allowing them to become familiar with the queens scent and pheromones. By the time this candy cork is gone, the colony should be well acquainted with their queen and she can get to work right away making her brood (babies).
I think that about covers it for Step One of Bee Keeping with the Christensen's. We will drive to Navasota to pick up our package of bees April 8th, suite up in our super sexy bee suits and install the package into our hive. We'll be sure to post pics, video, blogs and vlogs about our adventures in bee keeping. We do not know all there is to know about bees, but we will continue to learn how to enhance our world and live in harmony with it. We will share the joys and pains, successes and struggles, though, in hopes of inspiring you to do the same in your corner of the world, in your own way.
Nature has unlimited time in which to travel along tortuous paths to an unknown destination. The mind of man is too feeble to discern whence or whither the path runs and has to be content if it can discern only portions of the track, however small.
-Karl von Frisch, Noted entomologist and beekeeper
Won the Noble Prize for cracking the code to the dance language of honey bees