Bee Ready – Ain’t Mis-bee-havin’!

April has been a busy month, getting things in the ground, getting the weeds around the garlic under control, and most of all, getting ready for the arrival of 4 pounds – read that, 15-20 thousand (I keep finding different numbers on how many in a pound, but really, who’s counting?) – bees. Their arrival has been a bit delayed. Cold weather in California and Oregon dampened the Queen’s breeding flights. Relatively balmy weather is needed for her to fly maybe 600 feet up in the air and mate with a dozen or so drones, after which she will be able to lay up to 1500 eggs per day, amounting to millions of eggs in her lifetime. The drones mate and die. That’s all they do. We can reflect on that concept in another post; however, the timing of all this couldn’t be more perfect for the bees to arrive just in time for Earth Day.

It’s been a bit of a learning curve, building them homes, landscaping the entire property to transform it into a bee sanctuary (needless to say, when it comes to plants, I go all-out), and learning all about bee behavior, what they need, what their issues are (do bees have “issues?” – well, actually, yes they do…). The more I learn about them, the more I am in awe of these incredible little creatures who are so vital to our world. If, as some report, approximately 1/3 of what we eat is from insect-pollinated plants (personally, I would guess more) and that 80% of those plants are pollinated by bees, and if over 1/3 of the bee populations have already died due to a variety of factors – chemicals and weakened immune systems being primary among them – we are in a world of hurt – and you can read that on many different levels. And If – and this is a big if – we don’t wake up right now and get a handle on this crisis, it could mean the end of life as we know it. Sounds like drama, but if you carry out the thought, that’s where it – and we – end.

Of course, we could be waiting a long time if we are waiting for the likes of Bayer and Monsanto to change their policies and recognize that rather than enhancing food production, they are actually killing the Earth; to recognize that the future of our existence is more important than immediate financial gain; or to see that industrialized agriculture, in general, and massive bee-breeding in support of that industry, more specifically, is also contributing to this spiraling decline.

But this is not about the end of the world. This is about saving the world. And so, for Earth Day, which is Every Day, I am doing my part in learning to be a Bee Guardian – that is, someone in support of helping them to live a normal, natural life and bee all that they can bee, and that is on their own terms, not mine. If I eventually get some honey and some wax out of the deal, that is a bonus, but it is not my main objective. I want to create a place where they can thrive.

When it comes down to it, it’s not that hard. Each of us can do our part – even if it just means becoming more aware of the importance of these creatures, refraining from using yard and garden chemicals, and  maybe planting a few wildflowers and other bee-friendly forage.

This is who I want to be:

(Sara Mapelli, the bee dancer featured in the “Queen of Sun” documentary). If you have not already seen this film, please do. Profound is the only word I can think of to describe it.

Ok. So maybe I’m not quite that far “out there.” For now, I accept my reality. (Did I mention my mother was deathly allergic to bees?) I might have a long way to grow, but we all have to start somewhere. I know this is overkill, and I suspect, as I gain more confidence and understanding, I will shed a lot of this garb, but for now, this is me:

And here is Part 2, which goes through all the tools you might want to have handy, and a few extra, just in case:

For those who want the quick list, here are the supplies I have gathered:

Beekeeper’s Survival Kit

Dress for Success:

  • White painter’s coveralls (not meant to be a reflection on the painter’s nationality)
  • Mosquito Netting Hat
  • Raingear: Rain pants with heavy coating
  • Rain Jacket
  • White pants & shirt
  • One-wrap Velcro or other taping material for wrapping around ankles and wrists
  • Beekeepers hat
  • Heavy gloves

 General Equipment:

  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Cloth for wiping hands or whatever
  • Pocket Knife
  • Duck/Duct Tape
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Bee-sting salve
  • Lavender oil (yarrow, plantain, baking soda, and mud have also been shown to relieve stings)

For Installing the Bees:

  • Spray bottle of water
  • Spray bottle of sugar water (1:1 sugar:water solution to spray the inside of the hive and lightly mist the bees)
  • Lemongrass oil to make the hive attractive (after note: I have since discovered that this is best used when trying to catch feral bees or swarms – not so much in your regular hive, and in fact, it might even attract nefarious characters, like robbers and thieves.)
  • Sugar syrup in a jar (1:1 sugar:water solution) – for feeding the bees (use push pin to poke holes in the top)
  • Bee brush and/or hawk feather
  • Hive tool for scraping, prying, levering – for getting the syrup can out of the box they come in and for assorted tasks later on
  • Small container to hold push pins and wood screw for getting the cork out of the Queen cage and hanging it in the hive
  • A small marshmallow – for plugging the hole where the cork was on the Queen cage, unless it came with bee candy instead of a cork.

For Inspecting the Hive and Harvesting

  • Smoker (I still question whether this is necessary, but some people swear by it; I don’t think you need it for the initial installation)
  • Pine or fir cones or other burning material for the smoker
  • Matches, lighter, or blow torch for lighting the smoker
  • Bee comb for scraping wax (eventually) to access honey
  • Small bucket for debris
  • The hive tool, as noted above

Other Useful Stuff

  • Flower & herb seeds for bee-friendly landscaping
  • Beekeeper advice book

I hope to reduce this list with experience and as I learn how to be around bees. I am also hoping they will learn to be comfortable with my working around them – but I plan to disturb them as little as possible and mostly leave them to be bees.

In some cultures, bees are revered. What is your reaction when you see a bee? Do you panic and swat it away in fear? Or do you stare at it in wonder?

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