Monday, November 07, 2011

A Day in the Apiary


Yesterday, Nathan, Sally (fellow MFA-er and bee lover extraordinaire) and I spent a day in the apiary as part of our beekeeping classes. You're not supposed to open the hive unless it's above 40 degrees (70 is ideal) because the bees will lose the heat they've built up and a cold bee is a sad bee. Luckily, we had great weather yesterday and the bees were buzzing!

First, we learned how to use the smoker. You want to get thick, white, cool smoke and then gently blow smoke into the hive before opening it. This masks the scent of the bee pheromones and keeps them docile and calm while you perform your hive maintenance. Nathan was a natural at building a tiny fire that produced the perfect type of smoke.

Once the bees were sedated and we were wearing adequate protection, our instructors opened some of the hives and we watched the bees busy at work. The quiet drone of buzzing was divine and I loved watching them flying in and out of the hive and crawling all over the frames. We spent some time identifying eggs and larvae, looking at the different stages of the comb, and searching (unsuccessfully) for the queen.

Nathan makes a friend.

Bees flying in and out of the hive, carrying pollen or water to their sisters.

Hello, bees!

Looking down into the hive, at bees crawling on the frames. There are usually ten frames per hive body.

More experienced beekeepers generally wear just the veil and don't bother with the whole suit, which was a little disappointing. I love the suit! And yet, I have to admit - wearing the veil alone was much more comfortable. In the photo above, Sally is wearing the fashionable veil plus jacket combo, which I think will be my outfit of choice. It's much more chic than the bag that I am wearing.

Searching for the queen. Photo by Nathan.

Sally and a bee!

All in all, a very educational and hands-on day. While I've been learning a lot in our Monday evening classes, seeing the bees and their hives in person suddenly made it all seem so possible. We've already put in an order for bees, though they won't be available until April at the earliest. This is actually ideal - we have a lot of prep work to do, such as gathering equipment and building our hives, and starting a hive in the winter is big no-no. Spring is definitely best and I'm happy with waiting. I plan to have the best bees on the block and after yesterday's field trip, I feel like we're well on our way. 

Now, to plan the gardens and the chicken coop...


  1. Too Cool! I can't wait to read about more bee fun! And your chicken coop! And your gardens! (Be sure to check your zoning laws and city ordinances before you build a chicken coop, though. )

  2. I wish bees didn't make me so nervous. I'm allergic to them so I tend to get a little tense when I sense one is around. 

  3. Bees are pretty incredible, aren't they?  My sister-in-law's parents had a hive, but it died (another victim of colony collapse, we think).  I hope your bees thrive!

    And what great pictures you got from your bee class!  They look awesome.

  4. Have you ever read the the book "Robbing the Bees" by Holley Bishop. It is a great book about the someone who becomes captivated by bees. It is a great book and a very worth read.

  5. I researched ordinances for chickens before I even got here, because I've wanted them for so long! We are okay to have chickens inside the city if we have adequate room (we do) and no roosters (we won't!).

    And there will be more bee talk, no worries about that. :)

  6. The smoker really calms them down. We were surrounded by bees, poking around in their hives, and not one person in our group was stung. Pretty amazing!

  7. Colony collapse is so frightening. It's one of the reasons we wanted to do this - CCD is less common among small scale, independent beekeepers. Tell your SIL's parents to try again!

  8. I haven't, but I'm about to add it to my to-read list. Thanks for the recommendation!

  9. Are you suggesting that I take up smoking? :)

  10. Uncle David who lives a street over has some bee hives. Those bees come to our neighborhood to score pollen in our yards. It's pretty cool when I'm given a jar of honey that came from his bees.