Monday, January 27, 2014

beekeeping: the start of a new hobby

i am officially going to be a beekeeper. every time someone new finds out about this adventure, i swear a hundred questions follow. this includes my husband, my mom, my soon-to-be brother in law, my closest friends, and the lady sitting next to me on the flight to san diego last weekend.

so i thought spilling my beekeeping heart out in a post might be a good idea.


what made you want to become a beekeeper? i love honey. most days i eat 4 teaspoons, which means i consume about 1 quart a month. i keep the bees in business. i eat honey in my tea, on bananas, drizzled over peanut butter toast, with crackers or simply by the spoonful. my slight addiction was enough to make me curious about having bees of my own. so i did some research and signed myself up for a beginner beekeeping class hosted by the northern colorado beekeepers association.

Beekeeping Class, Day 1: the anatomy of a bee

aren't you afraid of being stung? no, not really. i actually don't think i've ever been stung in my life. but i do know i am not afraid. shocking, since i am afraid of most things. but if being stung a handful of times each year means i get to harvest my own honey, then i'll survive. it's only a matter of time until my very first bee sting. that's inevitable when you agree to house tens of thousands of bees.

something to note, most summertime-picnic-ruining stings are from yellow jackets and wasps, not honey bees. honey bees are far less aggressive. please educate yourself here and spread the news.

are you really getting bees shipped to your house? yes. i ordered two 3lb packages this weekend. they will arrive sometime in mid-april. each package will have one queen and over 10,000 bees. i can barely wrap my head around that last sentence.

i may have attended a class and understand the basics, but i have never actually spent any time around bees. and certainly not 10,000 of them. so to say i am not nervous about that many bees arriving at my front door, would be a lie. however, despite the nerves, i am actually really excited to get started. maybe i'll have a "bee voice" - mr. b aren't you excited for that?

what do the bees arrive in? they come in a shoebox-size wooden box with screened sides. they are packaged at the almond farms in california and brought to colorado by truck. did you know that the almond crop relies 100% on honey bee pollination? i sure didn't. and how about about apples, grapefruit, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, and oranges? yep, they all require bee pollination too!

where are you going to keep your hives? i am in the process of choosing a location now. our yard is not really ideal (according to my husband), so i've made a couple of contacts and will be visiting some properties over the next few weeks. i have learned pretty quickly that there is high demand for beekeepers, so finding property is really not as big of a problem as i anticipated.

how much does this cost? like most hobbies, it's not cheap. the first year investment is probably the most expensive though because you need to purchase your clothing, tools and smoker which are items that you won't have to purchase year after year. to get started with one hive and your gear, expect to pay upwards of $500.

are you getting one of those smoker things? yes. it's a must. you use the smoker when opening the hive. or when you approach the hive and the bees are acting aggressive. if an intruder were to come to your house, you'd panic and try to stop them, right? well the bees do the same. they send off "alarm" pheromones if they think their hive is being threatened. so the smoke masks that "alarm" pheromone and essentially calms the bees down.

everyone loves the veil. does it come in different colors? no. at least not in the 5 catalogs i have scattered on my floor. bees associate dark colors with pests and intruders (ie. mice, raccoons, bears, etc). i'd rather not make them mad (aka get stung), so i am sticking with white.

Beekeeping Class, Day 2: testing veils
ps. i love catalogs and i am so excited to add another type to my collection. my husband is not.

how often do you have to visit your hives? during the first year, our instructors suggested we visit our bees once a week for a full inspection. mostly as a learning experience - learning what is normal so we can identify when something is wrong. experienced beekeepers usually only inspect the hive a handful of times a year. [inspecting is different than watching. inspecting involves taking out the frames and looking at the foundation. you could visit and watch the bees every day if you wanted to.]

Beekeeping Class, Day 3: a sneak peek into a bee box

what will you do with your bees in the winter? let them alone. cold temps usually don't kill bees, heat does. they feed off the honey reserves, which keeps their bellies full. and they "huddle" together and flap their wings to keep warm. their goal is to keep the queen alive until next season. of course some bees will not survive the winter, but in a hive of 30,000 bees, that's expected. except for the occasional sunny winter days (>55 degrees), they usually stay in the hive for most of the winter season.

how much honey will you harvest? possibly none my first year. i was a little unhappy to hear this during my first class. but my bees will be spending most of their time (this year) building out their comb, multiplying their colony, and making their box a home. that requires months of work on their part, so when they eventually bring back enough nectar to fill the "supers" (the name for the honey box that sits on top of the hive) that is when i will have honey to harvest. a typical hive will eventually produce 60-90lbs of honey, which equals 5+ gallons.

i have to ensure i leave enough honey for my bees to survive through the winter. that means i can't be selfish and take all of the liquid gold for myself. unfortunate, i know. but if your hive survives the winter, they will start filling the honey supers earlier the following season. why? because they will already be an established colony.

when can i get my first jar of honey? typically in colorado, honey harvest begins early september and runs through the middle of the month.

are you going to turn this into a business? no, that is not the intention. just a hobby. i do however, plan to share.

does mr. b think you are nuts? he laughed when i told him i wanted to take the class. then i asked if he wanted to join - he said no. frankly the part he is most excited about, is making a video about the experience. what i am excited about? exuding sexiness in our matching bee jackets. [insert sarcasm]

i think i covered the basic questions i've been getting asked. fascinated yet? there will be much more to come. so stick around.

i can't wait to meet my girls. yes everyone in class calls their bees their girls. if i am going to be a beekeeper, i may as well start talking the lingo.

more questions? ask away.

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