Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Bees' Needs

Life at the Lazy Duck Ranch is getting as busy as... well, a bee! We have chickens in the coop, goats in the pasture, and now we are just waiting for the bees for our hives. In addition to the hive we won at the beekeeping class, we purchased another setup just like it from the same vendor and plan to have two hives started this summer. As with most things on the farm, the bees will take a year to get established, so we don't anticipate much of a honey harvest this year. Patience is the name of the gane around here!

There is a local Amish man, Albert Zook, who recently took over the business from his father making beehives. We visited his workshop to pick up our hive. It was a neat experience, just showing up to someone's house where they have goods for sale. It is pretty common here for everything from produce and eggs to furniture and, in this case, beehives. The prices from this craftsman are about half what we'd pay from the beekeeping catalogs, so it was a no-brainer to shop locally! Plus the drive through the country to his home was gorgeous. When we arrived, there were the traditional Amish clothes drying on a line out front, and no electricity or motorized vehicles to be seen. His shop was immaculate (enviable given the current dust-covered state of our own workshop). He had a good stock of what we came to buy, but needed to put a few more nails in the hive stand we wanted, and did so on the spot.

WHOOPS! Overzealous painting
We needed to get one of the hives to the man who is going to provide us with the swarm of bees. Every year, a hive of bees grows a new queen and evicts the old one. She takes half the colony with her, creating a swarm. One of the members of our beekeeping club has 30 active hives, and collects and sells the swarms rather than harvesting the honey and selling that. Since he never knows when the bees might swarm, we had to get him the setup as soon as possible. I spent hours priming and painting our first hive. Hives are painted with exterior paint to protect them from the elements. I thought I was being extremely thorough when painting ours and made sure every speck of raw wood was covered. We come to find out that - whoops! - you're only supposed to paint the outside, because the smell of the paint on the inside can disturb the bees and cause them to reject the hive. So now we have to decide if we make the trip back to Mr. Zook to purchase replacements, or attempt to remove the paint from the inside somehow (heat gun or sanding, probably). Lesson learned. We returned with a properly painted box from our second hive setup and dropped it off to await its new residents. We have a second colony of bees on order through a catalog which will arrive at the post office around May 9th.

All that remains to prepare for our bee friends is to finish painting the rest of the hive parts (just the outsides!) and order the last few supplies we need to get us going. Bees start out drinking sugar water to jump start the honey production in the hive. This initial stock of honey is what will get them through the winter. So we need dispensers for that, and possibly the recommended additives to keep our hive healthy. We also probably need a second set of protective gear so we can both work with the bees at the same time.

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