I just bought* two more beehives and honey bees to reside therein, with intent of growing my backyard apiary to four hives this season. Let me back up and explain a bit. Last year, after several years of keeping bees for other folks, I took the plunge and began keeping bees here at the Fox Plot. It’s more like we adopted them rather than own them, because the hive collective has its’ own opinions and ideas, sometimes contrary to what we people think might be a good ideas. Beekeepers should be seen as a stewards or guardians instead of owners, providing a cozy, appropriately spaced home for the bees in hope that the bees will take to the accommodations and decide to stay for a good while. Honey bees, when experiencing a crowded hive, will groom a new queen and send out a percentage of bees along with the old queen to establish a new hive. As lovely and natural as this is, it goes to illustrate that beekeepers don’t really keep the bees, the bees keep themselves and treat the beekeepers more like landlords, who provide nice housing and some other additional ammenities all for a fee, paid in honey.
Last spring, we chose a spot at the back of the garden, acquired all needed hive body parts and two ‘packages’ of bees, each containing roughly 3000 bees and a queen in one box. If you are somewhat of an adrenaline junkie, I recommend participating in installing new hives of honey bees. The label on the package might read like this: To install bees, remove queen cage and sugar can. Firmly tap box against ground to consolidate bees, invert (quickly now!), and shake that box for all your worth. And don’t forget to breathe. In a rushing stream of insect movement, the bees whoosh out of the box and in to the awaiting hive, all the while the hum increases in pitch and volume. There are always some stragglers, but the bulk of the honey bees make it into their new home in the first shaking. Tuck the queen in among her royal subjects and set them to the task of releasing her. Put the lid on and then get this: Leave them alone! (which is not always as easy as it sounds). They will either settle into the new home just given to them or reject it, and pick up and move out, without regard to the beekeeper, who would very much appreciate if they stayed.
As for the new hives of bees this year, there will be a field trip sometime in April down to Long Lane Honey Bee Farm to fetch them back home again. I’ll keep you posted!
*By bought I mean that I am trading vegetables this summer for some hand-crafted hive body parts and the bees have been ordered from Long Lane Honey Bee Farm. We (a wee collective of 3 Campton and LaFox keepers) ordered 6 packages of bees to add to the current 3, bringing the total to 9 if all make it through winter successfully.