Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Install Day!

I had emailed one of the Metro Atlanta Beekeeper Assn beekeepers who lives here in Marietta to see if she'd be willing to help me install the nuc. That beekeeper was Cindy Bee, whom I'd actually met before. I had picked up her business card back in the summer at some local event where her honey was for sale. I kept the card on the fridge for the next time I needed honey, and she was kind enough to actually deliver it. Then I met her again at the Short Course where she was one of the presenters. I was thrilled that she was able to come over to help! This gal knows her stuff - she's kept bees since she was a little nipper, is a certified master beekeeper (which is a pretty hard core program) and in fact was named the Georgia State Beekeeper of the Year recently. I could not be in more accomplished hands.

Cindy called in the morning to say she was on her way over and got voicemail because we were outside looking for bees! And finding them! We have a big holly in front of the house that was in bloom, and the bees were out there in the flowers, and in the clover in the weed patch that we call a lawn.

Cindy could not have been sweeter or more encouraging. I asked if I should go put my full bore bee suit on. She said not if I didn't want to, but shirt with a collar would be a good idea. So what you see is as covered as I got. We sat there and got our smokers lit - I had heard from other new beekeepers that something that sounds so simple in theory is quite a challenge in actual practice - not only do you have to have it lit, it has to stay lit... handfuls of pinestraw seemed to do it. Smoker lit... veil on... let's do this!

Off comes the remaining bungee cord and the top of that nuc box. Alan was there with the camera snapping away. We have the top off my equipment ready to take the frames out of the nuc and put them in. I think Cindy did the first one and I got the rest. She spotted the Queen, whom I'd named Bettina, running around in the bottom of the nuc box. I had ordered her marked, which means with a dot of model airplane paint on a hairless bit of her back, so she'd be easier to spot. Cindy picked her up and dropped her in the hive, and she disappeared between the frames and got busy. We put the top on my hive, scraped off the little bits of odd wax on P.N.'s equipment which I would need to return to him, put a feeder full of sugar syrup on the hive for the bees to tide them over until the tulip poplar bloomed, and called it a day!

I was amazed at how calm the bees were, and how calm I was. Cindy said they were sweet tempered bees - which was a relief to me becuase one of the other local beekeepers got a batch that were pretty aggressive from P.N. the week before. I had to check them again in one week. Not before! It was a beautful warm week, so I pulled up a couple of Adirondak chairs near the hive, and would sit there and watch the bees coming and going. It was just the coolest thing! And i could not get the smile off my face for a week. Here's the happy little newly installed hive:

Off to P.N.'s to get bees!

So off to P.N.'s we went that Friday night. Somebody else was picking up bees that night, a woman with 2 young sons. The older one was 13 - his mom said he'd been wanting bees since he was little and had spent the winter in the garage with his little brother building his bee hive out of parts. What a cool mom! Can you imagine having a child nag you for pet insects? Stinging ones?

When it was my turn, I went over to the nuc with P.N. and watched as he packed it up. There were some bees hanging out in front - he sprayed them with water from a spray bottle to get them back in the nuc box, which I found pretty interesting. They didn't see to be ticked off at being sprayed, but it had the desired effect. He took a little screened cover and placed it over the hive entrance, and bungeed it in place. One bungee holding the lid on the top and one holding the door on, and we're ready to roll back home. The instructions were to put the nuc box near my equipment and take the bungee holding the screen cover off. I was a ball of stomach acid as I got ready to do this - half expecting to be attacked. But no... a few bees came out but didn't fly. Tomorrow was the day! I had expert help lined up to help me in the morning.

But on the way home I had to remark to Alan - how weird is it that we are not the only people driving up I75 with a big box of bees in the car?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I ordered all my bee equipment off the internet in late January. It's a standard beginner's kit that all the suppliers offer, and comes complete with all the basic hive parts, tools, and protective gear. The hive sat there, completely assembled, in the middle of the living room for a week or so while I pondered taking the plunge. It's hardly an impulse 10 or 15 years after the inital idea, but it did feel impulsive. One day I just picked up the phone and ordered the "livestock" before I talked myself out of it. I ordered what's considered one of the best ways to get started in bees if you're fortunate enough to live near a supplier - a nucleus, otherwise know as a "nuc" for short in bee parlance. These don't ship, so you have to be driving distance to a supplier or apiary. Luckily we have that here in the ATL, Mr. PN Williams. He supplies a lot of bee folk in town and is well known in bee circles.
A "nuc" a little box filled with hive parts, already populated with live bees in an established colony format, if you will. You get a fat fertile queen, 4 or 5 frames of bees and baby bees in all stages of developement, collectively referred to as "brood". Here's a nuc ready for business, and what's inside one:

At some point in this time period, while I had an assembled beehive in the living room, and live bees on order, I realized my neighbors were entirely likely to see that hive and panic. Despite this being Georgia, our neighbors are not unreasonable or ignorant people. We like them quite a bit, actually. But not everyone is going to be warm to the idea of a colony of 30,000 stinging insects nearby. I know I'm not the only one who watches the Discovery Channel and fears every inevitable calamity. Even my friend Dave, so often clueless, bless his little pea pickin' heart, knew all about "africanization" and killer bees on the march toward Georgia, a menace to life and limb. There's only one thing to do... fence in the yard! The neighbors don't need to know I keep bees until I can tell them so while offering a jar of honey produced from stuff in their very own gardens. Can I get 3 quotes and get this done before the ETA for the bees? No, as it turned out. Luckily the bees were late. The fence was finished the hour before we headed to P.N.'s to pick up the bees on the appointed evening.

Bob is the multi-talented guy who put up my fence, the best fence in the neighborhood by far. He knew he was up against a bee deadline. As he was working on the side toward my neighbor Janice's house, he overheard us gals chatting. Janice, knowing I also want a houseful of dogs to go with the houseful of cats, looks at the fence and says, "Somebody's finally getting a dog!". Bob
just looks at me with a knowing grin... "dogs". Well, I didn't lie to her, exactly. There will be dogs one day soon too! Janice can probably deal with bees just fine. I just didn't want to go there yet. As Bob leaves that night he finished the fence, knowing we were off to get the bees, he said, "good luck with your "dogs".

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Alright, already! I'm blogging!

Last weekend, March 23rd, I started a new hobby. To add to my ever growing list of oddities and eccentricities, I have decided to become a beekeeper. I have not told a whole lot of people about this... but the reactions have fallen into 2 categories. One is that people (especially those who are critter-people, and those who are polite...) have said they think it's the coolest thing ever and "you should start a blog!". The other category, which so far just includes my sister Beth, laugh hysterically for an inappropriate amount of time, and then question my sanity. But that's Beth. She laughs when she sees a car wreck too. All I can say is, "no honey for you!"

So why on earth do I want to keep bees? An accident, really. There was a colony of bees living in dead locust tree in the woods near the pool of a condo where I used to live. The Stratton House residents wanted them dead, dead, dead! The sooner the better! Luckily our manager knew you didn't call an extermintor to kill bees, you call beekeepers to take them away! I by chance ran into them doing the deed on my way to work one morning. I got there in time to witness the entire operation. They were old geezers, retired phone company guys. And they all kept bees and sold honey at the Arlington Va County Fair. One guy did the work while others stood around smoking cigarettes and chatting. The Beekeeper smoked the colony out of the tree trunk. A gang of them lighted on the chain link fence. He knew the queen was in that mass, found her quickly, put her in a little box, and proceeded to put the bees and big hunks honeydripping comb some kind of receptacle. I was completely mesmerized. I thought right at that moment, "one day, I'm going to keep bees". I ran into this gang every year at the Fair and always got some honey... maybe made by those very bees that came from the locust tree behind the Stratton House condo pool. I liked the idea that I knew those bees. And those geezers. I always regretted that I didn't ask them if I could come over and see their bees.

Fast forward to this January. I now live in Marietta, GA. I'm reading the Home and Garden section of the paper and notice under the lists of classes and events that there is a one day beekeeping short course offered at the Atlanta Botanical Garden sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association. Hmmmm... why not? I have a decent sized yard. My husband Alan keeps an organic garden. And for once, I have no homeowners association to tell me I what critters I can and cannot keep! So I thought I'd see what exactly is involved in this. I'm not quite a retired geezer yet and didn't want to take on the equivalent of a part time job.

The short course was fantastic. Professionally presented, technical enough to be serious, personal enough to be welcoming and encouraging... overall a great experience. Considering I was in a bit of a depressed funk at the time, this bee thing had some potential for me. It has a certain meatiness to it. It would require some serious study and research in order to do right. It would require involvement with new folks who know more than I do, have opinions, and don't mind sharing. It's a definite departure from everything else in my life, which is feeling like cool fresh air. So here we are, about 8 weeks later, and there are thousands of bees in a little box in my back yard.