Bee’s need to drink. They’re not buzzing around to attack you.

001Photo by Adam Filicetti

What I love most about being a “Back Yard Bee Keeper” is watching the bees stop at the watering hole we have created for them and watch them drink. I watch their straw like tongues drop down and suck up water. It’s an amazing and beautiful thing. As a child, I always thought the bees were trying to attack me at the swimming pool, but in truth they were just wanting to get a drink. http://www.honeybeesuite.com/water-collection/ shares an excellent article about bees and their quest for obtaining water. We use irrigation water to fill our water baths for our bees. We keep them close to our bee hives. The bees seem to go crazy landing in them all day long for drinks. We hope the irrigation water we use is not full of chlorine or other harmful chemicals. Since we haven’t had it tested, there’s always the question of how many pesticides or nasty stuff may be in the water that we use to grow our “organic” food with? Which begs the question, “Unless you live in an environment that you have complete control over, what really is “safe for consumption” and “organic?” One can always hope to aim for doing the best with what they have.

Our intent is to raise “treatment free” bees. The scientific battle of keeping bees alive, functioning and free of mites should not be taken lightly. Recent articles about bees share information on the many dangers they face. Mites and the abundant use of pesticides is a threat we should all be concerned about. Our backyard bees will fly up to 6 miles to forage. What happens if they go to a house 3 miles away that has all of their  Suburbia landscaping sprayed with chemicals and they go to those flowering plants and freshly sprayed weeds and take all of that poison back to their hive? Is our quest for “Suburbia” perfection one of the reasons bees viability is threatened?

Whoever said a perfect no weed “Suburbia” yard was the best for mankind? Unsprayed pesticide free dandelions are the bomb in the bee’s world.  We have moved into the “permaculture” – very limited grass landscaping technique. What are we doing with our suburbia landscaping? We hand pick out our weeds and we don’t use harmful pesticides to control our weeds. What are we doing to protect the livelihood of our bees? Everything we think we can within the knowledge we have. We all need bees as part of a healthy ecosystem. The pollination of our plants and honey is a essential and beautiful thing.

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Backyard Bee Keeping Adventures Part 1

honey-bee

I carried an Epi-pen for as long as I can remember, because my mother told me I was deathly allergic to bees. When a bee approached my space, the idea of being calm or staying still only made me freak out and panic. Fortunately, I lived most of my life without getting stung.

The worst thing that ever happened to me regarding a bee happened in my twenty’s. Driving back to college after honeymooning with my first husband a bee flew in our car. Trying to secure the whereabouts of the bee we both looked down and when we looked up we were about to drive off a cliff, so we both overcorrected the steering wheel and driving 55 mph we crashed in to a rock wall that was jetting out. Not a great way to start of a marriage, but our marriage lasted 21 years and produced four beautiful sons. Never did find the bee.

In my thirty’s I was gardening and pulling out some bachelor buttons and a bee stung my hand. I pulled out the stinger and called my doctor. It had been about 20 minutes so I asked, “At what point should I be having an allergic reaction, what would that reaction look like and how long do Epi-pens last?” I was told that I probably wasn’t allergic to whatever stung me and that I should get a new Epi-pen.

Fast forward to my fifty’s, in a new marriage and my husband tells me he wants to be a Bee Keeper.  He knows my story and I can’t help but think, “Is he plotting my early death?”  I suggest going to an allergy doctor just to make sure I’m not deathly allergic to bees. I had to assume if one owns bees that the chances of getting stung are pretty high. After four hours of being tested for the five major stinging insect’s, the results proved that I’m not allergic to any of them. This of course warranted a call to my mother. “Mom, why did you tell me I was deathly allergic to bees? Why have I lived almost 50 years in fear of bees?”  She still confirms that my neck and face swelled up and that I couldn’t breathe and my older sister agrees that this happened (I was too young to remember it). Guess whatever stung me wasn’t one of the five major stinging insects.

My husband is thrilled, because it’s now okay for us to be backyard Bee Keepers. What do they say about fear? False evidence appearing real….so you’d think it’d be really easy to just NOT be afraid of bees anymore, right? We all know life is a journey and stepping out of one’s comfort zone can be very rewarding. I put on my bee jacket with hood, thick jeans and garden gloves and assisted my husband in putting our first package of 10,000 bees into their new home.  At this time he was against using smoke to calm the bees, because they had just traveled here from Tennessee via the USPS and were stressed.  The idea is that you open the package and shake the bees into the hive. The queen is in a separate box in the package to protect her. I videotaped this event where I hear myself saying, “Do you think maybe we should have used smoke?” The bees went everywhere! It was a frenzy of bees. Bees don’t poop in their hive, so after 4 days they had to go! The bees pooped all over us. When I played in the woods as a kid, I always thought the mustard colored drops were bird poop, but now I have confirmation that it was bee poop. How’s that for trivia? We were able to safely remove the cork plug on the box that the queen bee was in and place her in the hive. She would eventually crawl out and her bee attendants would begin to take care of her. The bees did settle in and like bees do, they got right to work. The next time we went in the hive we removed the empty queen box.

We ordered our bees from Tennessee because they were a breed of Russian/Italian bees said to be treatment free, disease resistant and four seasons. We set out on a quest to raise our bee’s treatment free or without any pesticides. We had one hive at our suburbia home (we did ask our neighbors if they had any objections) and two hives at a friend’s house that lived on acreage. We used medium hives that had 8 frames with no forms. That way there was no plastic in the hives and they could build their comb freely. Pulling out a frame of brand new pristine comb was breathtaking. My fascination with these creatures outweighed my fear. My husband went into the hives the few times we had to check on them. I was there taking pictures or video. Be both always wore a veil, but he was usually bare handed, in shorts and sandals. Clearly these were not aggressive bees and they just wanted to be busy doing their work. Unless I was standing right at the hive, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that we had a bee hive at our house. It seemed to me that they flew up and out. When I was in my garden I had no way to determine if the bees I saw were our bees. We had a fantastically productive garden and I’m pretty sure this was due to some happy bees. We purposely planted many plants bees are said to be fond of. We also let some of our vegetables flower for the bees. Carrots produce a beautiful lace-like flower.

In the first year, a new bee hive needs to build up enough honey and comb for the bees to survive the winter. All of our hives were different in the production of honey and comb building. We were told the most difficult part of bee keeping is making sure the mites (little red tick like critters) don’t become too high in number and destroy the colony. The mites have created a need for traditional and commercial bee keepers to use pesticides to control the mite population. The treatment free option is to use prescribed essential oils in their feeding water or to put drops in the hive. Even though our bees arrived in late spring after all the tree pollen had passed we thought they did a good job building comb and putting up honey. We hoped and prayed that they had enough honey to survive the winter. We did not harvest or touch any of their honey.

Unfortunately none of our hives survived the winter. The bees cluster together in a ball shape and flex their wing muscles to keep warm and they eat honey out of the comb. If it’s too cold they can’t move up or down in the hive to get more honey, so if they’ve eaten all the honey that was available to them and they’re too cold to move, it’s a bad day. We think our bees froze and starved to death. We also think the Tennessee bees may not have been hearty enough for Idaho winters.

Our new local bees arrive next week. We are putting two hives in our backyard. Since we have a good amount of honey and comb from our previous bees, we hope this will give our new bees a great head start. On Saturday we will once again be putting our bee packages in their hives. There’s no doubt we will also be saying some prayers and hoping for the best, as we have become increasingly fond our bees. Not only are they amazing to watch they are also so critical to plant pollination and there’s nothing better than tasting honey from your own bees.