Saturday, April 21, 2012

Getting the Nursery Ready

I don't remember exactly when I decided to start keeping bees. It wasn't even until 3 years ago that I saw into a hive, and realized how weird modern Langstroth hives are. Did you know that the hive consists of boxes, with 10 frames hanging down so it looks like a big filing cabinet? It was not the round, cartoonish image I had in my head, but it's easy for the beekeeper to pull out each frame, and it creates the ideal spacing of 3/8 inch between frames which makes the bees happy. This is a picture from inside a friend's hive on Orcas Island in 2009.
I took a class on bees on Orcas, and that was when I first realized what complex and amazing creatures they are. Fast forward a few years, and now that I'm living in Seattle, it seemed realistic to think about having my own hive. I took another class in March through the Ballard Bee Company, and found out that if I wanted to consider keeping bees this year, I had to order everything now. Most new packages of bees are coming from breeders in California, and they usually get shipped out in mid-April. So I called the Ballard Bee guy and pre-ordered one 3-pound package of Italian bees, which consists of 7-10,000 worker bees and one queen. (The Italian variety are the most popular for backyard beekeepers, known to be extremely gentle, good foragers, and hearty in the damp, cool winters.)

I gave him my credit card information and he told me he'd email me a receipt. That's when it started to feel real. "I'm so excited, I can't believe I really just ordered them!" I said.

"Congratulations!" he replied. "You're pregnant!"

Now, no one has ever said that to me in my life, so I was a little taken aback. But he was right- I felt like I was going to be a mama to these little guys. When friends get cats and dogs, they call them their babies, and their parents call them their"granddogs", so why not for bees too? I felt what must be a slight fraction of how new parents feel when they discover they are expecting a (real) baby- ecstatic and also terrified, knowing you've never done this exact thing and wanting to be as ready as possible.

That left me with about 4 weeks to get the nursery ready, so to speak. I bought a set of new, basic beekeeping equipment- four "western" or shallow boxes, top and bottom to the hive, jacket with screened hood, gloves, smoker, and a few hive tools. Here are the boxes, though they are missing the bottom pieces.
Then I had to paint the boxes. Usually we see white boxes, but in the cool Pacific Northwest, it's good to paint them a darker color to absorb as much heat as possible. I asked my step-dad if he had any opened cans of exterior latex paint around, and he said he'd look. I went over to the house and he had put a kit together for me of primer, stir sticks, brushes, and a dark red paint left over from the trim on their house. It was so sweet of him, and I liked the red color a lot. I painted the handles a dark purple, and ended up with a beautiful, very feminine hive. After all, it's almost all ladies living there, so why not make it a little girly?

There were a few other preparations to be done as well. I had to find the right hive location at my house- somewhere flat, not near a door or walkway or neighbor's house, and with plenty of sun, preferably as early in the day as possible. I picked the backyard corner behind a shed, which is south-facing and tucked away. I'd personally be fine with a slightly more accessible spot, but I think for now it's good to err on the side of caution and give them a wide berth for the comfort of my roomates. And it is a great spot in terms of sunlight, so that's the main thing. I had to clear the area though, dig out rocks and old plastic and level it.

You can feed the bees sugar water as a supplement to nectar and pollen. That way, if it's a cool day and they don't leave the hive to forage, they can still eat something inside the hive, and in the end make more babies and more honey. I made a couple gallons of 1:1 simple syrup to have on hand. I took another class, an intermediate one specifically about the first months with a new hive. I left class at least knowing conceptually how to get the bees from the transport box to their new home, and how to put the queen in the hive. That's a start.

One thing that surprised me and warmed my little heart was how supportive friends and family have been. I've never talked to most people about bees, yet they seem interested and at least curious. I sort of considered this first hive my 30th birthday present to myself, so it was awesome when my aunt sent me this birthday card.
A Canadian friend in Korea sent me these adorable cookie cutters from Etsy. It was so thoughtful, and they are probably the cutest things I've ever seen.
I get the bees on Monday and will install them immediately. More on that soon!


ElizaBeth said...

Holy cow I can't wait! Please post a photo of the bee box, I'm dying to see this beautiful red construct.

JL Summa said...

Nice post! Exciting... How are the bees doing?

AmberAnda said...

The bees are great! I'll write an update really soon, with a pic of the painted boxes.