Do It Yourself With Bees

This isn’t going to turn into an entirely bee-based blog, but it will get a little bee-ier as I’m learning about and setting up my hives, then probably again when it’s time to get the honey out of the hive.  Unfortunately one of yesterday’s lessons is that we won’t get any honey until our second summer.  That’s okay.  I can be patient.  I’ve put a lot of fruit trees and bushes into my yard that take several years to start producing.  I don’t expect to see any paw paw fruit until at least 2014, and I might finally get some raspberries or cherries this year if I’m lucky.

That’s fine, no honey this year, I’m getting used to the idea.  Mead is a multi-year process anyway, so a few extra months to get the honey isn’t that bad.  This first year is all about getting a hive set up and happy so it can survive next winter.  Last night was about the actual built stuff, what they call the “woodware” within the beekeeping hobby.  Those big boxes, called “supers,” the frames that go inside of them, the bases they sit on, the doors that let bees in and out, the lids, the lids that go over the lids.  All of it is pine and all of it has to be ordered by next class if we hope to get it all delivered and assembled by the time our bees arrive between early April and mid-May.

Oh yes.  Assembled.  And painted.  There’s a rather strong backbone of do it yourself mentality within the hobby.  Oh sure, you can get your supers pre-assembeled, even already painted, but what’s the fun in that?  Plus things get more expensive because shipping becomes bulkier and there’s a built-in labor cost, a tax against the lazy.  We’re going to be semi-lazy.  We’ll put together our own supers.  I even look forward to painting them, especially after painting a dresser two weekends ago.  We’ll probably draw the line at assembling the frames, each of which are four shaky bits of wood that have to be glued together then reinforced with no less than 8 nails.  For each of 8 frames.  For each of 4-5 supers.  For each of 2 hives.

We’re not going so far as buying the fancy pressed plastic frames that have foundation built in.  Foundation, we also learned last night, is the plastic and/or wax base from which the bees will build, or “draw out,” their comb.  So while we’ll get frames that are prebuilt wooden rectangles, we’ll still have to break a little piece out of each one, set the foundation in place, and then staple back the piece we broke out to keep the foundation from moving.  This is how things are done in beekeeping, fiddly little steps to let you know that you’re actually doing something.

I lobbied for the plastic frames, but stepped down when we multiplied the difference in cost over just how many frames we need to buy.  That’s fine.  I can’t have the entire hobby dropped into my lap and done for me.  Which is why we also decided to assemble our own queen.

This is, apparently, tougher to do, and many first time beekeepers choose to buy their queens preassembled.  The challenges come from identifying the left legs from the right (they come in little labeled baggies, but will sometimes be wrong, and will sometimes open in shipping causing the legs to get mixed up) and in choosing what to include or not.  Just like most LEGO sets have a few extra smaller pieces to allow for packing accidents, the queen will usually come with three antennae even though she only needs two.  In fact, the third can be quite disastrous.  The antennae work not unlike eyes in humans.  Look at the world through one eye, and what you see is basically two-dimensional as you lose depth perception.  Open your other eye, and the world becomes three-dimensional again.  Put the third antenna on the queen, and she can now experience the world in four dimensions, looking through both space and time.

You can understand how this would be disorienting for something with the mental capacity of an insect.

So next week the orders will be placed, and we’ll learn about the various species of bees.  In a few weeks it’ll be assembly weekend and paint party time.  I’ll probably end up posting a couple of pictures from that.

Yeah, I’m getting a little excited about beekeeping, something I didn’t expect.

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