A New Start to My Beekeeping Adventure!
By Anne-Marie Miller
The last time I updated everyone on my first year of beekeeping I was limping over the finish line with my beekeeping buddies supporting me on either side. See my experience with Africanized bees here.
While I was hoping to calm down my defensive group of girls by replacing their queen with new calm genetics, it became clear that they were a danger to the urban environment that they were in. From their location behind a community garden, by a church, they had attacked the lawnmower man, the pastor’s wife and several gardeners. They had to go. My friend James came to my rescue and helped me find a happy ending to my first beekeeping story.
Now, I see many heroes in the movies complete with superpowers and spandex, but James will always be my real live superhero. I don’t know what makes a man look at a potentially dangerous situation and jump in with both feet. It would have been so easy for him to scroll by my online plea for help with this defensive bee hive. I am sure many did just that. However, James came beside me and came to check out my girls, which he deemed as “The hottest hive he had ever worked!”
My friend James and his coworker Shannon came out one Sunday and helped me close up the hive with mesh screening. They strapped the hive onto the back of the pickup truck securely and took it out to the country where these girls could be managed without putting people in danger. Shannon has an amazing homestead, but that is a subject for another post (or maybe a podcast)!
On this land, with plenty of room to roam, this beehive could be managed by letting them raise a queen with calm genetics and that is exactly what ended up happening. I will be forever grateful for these two generous super heroes, who helped me without expecting anything in return.
So, I found myself without bees and wondering if beekeeping was even for me anymore. After all, when you have had the feeling of a bee climbing under your “protective” hood, up your neck and into your ear, well that unhinges a person on many different levels. I don’t watch many horror movies. Apparently, I don’t need to because that feeling is the stuff that nightmares are made of! Yes, it stung me, in my ear! I could feel my ear swelling shut as I hurried to close up the hive. Let me also warn you that those canvas gloves that they sell to new beekeepers offer a false sense of protection. When you are working with Africanized bees, it just gives them leverage to dig in and sting. The smooth leather of goat skin gloves is definitely the way to go. As I staggered home after handling my “Amazon Girls”, as I came to call them, I wondered what I had gotten myself into and how I was ever going to get myself out. Thank God James and Shannon came to my rescue!
I have to say here that I am NOT a quitter. I come from a long line of determined stubborn folk. My sweet sister and brother-in-law didn’t want me to quit, either. Not only did my brother-in-law help me build the sweetest hybrid langstroth/top bar combo hive, but he split the cost of a package of bees with me. I am surrounded with people that love me and offer me a hand up when I fall down. So, I ordered myself a package of bees and let the cold temps of winter soften the bad memories of my first year of beekeeping.
Spring is a time of new beginnings and start overs and so it was with my bees. I have never seen a UPS man so shaken up when delivering a package before. He was a really good sport when I made him pose for a picture though!I am happy to report that these bees have been a totally different experience. They are amazing and sweet. They buzz around me with interest, NOT on a mission to kill me! I guess genetics makes all the difference. I named this top bar hive “The Busy Body.” They have certainly lived up to their name. They are busy and fascinating and gentle. These bees are a joy to work with.
The number one question I get about my bees is: Have you gotten any honey yet? The answer is, no. Many people don’t know that honey is the winter stores for the bees. That’s right, they need to use it for energy while they keep the hive at an even 92 degrees. Imagine how much energy it takes to keep everyone, including the queen bee, warm and cozy all winter. I am happy to report that “The Busy Body” is doing great and has a good chance of making it through the winter.
I will be helping them with sugar syrup and bee pollen paddies throughout the winter. Of course, I have a flower border in front of my gardens that they snack on all day and a patio fountain for them to get water from. I have to say that this is one of the most rewarding, fascinating, fun thing I have ever been a part of.
Most beekeepers will tell you that a good place to start is with two hives so that you can compare them and occasionally use one to help out the other. I can see how this would be a plus. In my case, if I had been able to manage another calmer hive, I would have recognized right away that my girls were not normal.
Also, if you find yourself without a queen for some reason (had this happen to The Busy Body hive) you can take a frame of brood and, most importantly, freshly laid eggs out of one hive and slip it into the queenless hive. They will then make a new queen with one of these little bee eggs.
So, I was on a mission to adopt another group of girls to manage. While I didn’t have the money to buy another package of bees I did have the money to build a swarm trap. With my trap secured in a tree at the edge of a creek, all I had to do was be patient. Good thing I didn’t have to wait for long because this particular character trait eludes me! Within a week, a group of bees had moved in my trap and I was ready to move them to a hive box. Thank goodness, this group of girls had an even gentle temperament.
I wanted to take some time to update everyone on how my bee adventure was going because, after my article about Africanized bees, I was afraid I might have scared some people off beekeeping forever. As you can see, there is another amazing, fascinating, rewarding side of beekeeping IF you have the right bees. I am hooked and I haven’t even gotten any honey yet! Also, the honeybee has a lot stacked against it right now and needs our help, not our fear.
The stillness of fall and winter is the time to think about having a bee adventure of your own. Many bee supply companies begin selling bee packages or Nucs at this time of year and they go fast. Or if you want to do like I did and attract the bees to you, then winter would be the perfect time to build your trap. The bees will be swarming around looking for a new home in early spring. Your best chance to catch a group of girls is to have it up ready and waiting.
If you would like to see how I built my swarm trap and what I used for bait, check out the video I made below:
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Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.