Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Urban beekeeping

A dream of mine has finally come true – we are now the home of approx. 20,000 honey bees. Ever since I took the U of M extension beekeeping class I have wanted to start up beekeeping, but I just felt like I needed a mentor to help me get started. As recently as last summer I had discussed doing it with our next door neighbor, but felt like life was too busy and I didn't have time to do it and didn't want to invest all the money in it if I didn't really know what I was doing 100%.

Fast forward to a couple months ago when our neighborhood association sent out an email on behalf of a beekeeper who was looking to keep bees in our neighborhood and wondered if anyone was interested. I discussed it with Steve and determined that this might potentially be the ideal situation to learn from an experienced beekeeper and also not fully commit to doing all the work it entails. So I emailed back saying that we were interested and wanted more information. Turns out it is a woman named Chris who lives in an apartment in uptown and needed a place for her bees. She has been keeping 2 hives in Powderhorn at someone else's house for the past few years and wanted another location. The hives have to be spread out by a few miles so that there is enough for the bees to forage. She came over to chat and meet us and we decided to move forward. Steve and I had already determined that the ideal spot for the hives would be on our flat roof above our family room. There is virtually no place to put it in our yard and the hives have to be in a fenced in area as stipulated by the city in order to obtain a permit. Also the bees need a spot with full sun.

By the end of the summer when both the hives are filled with honey the hives could each weigh 500 lbs so that was our main concern. After some consulting with some roofing professionals and a structural engineer, they deemed it safe for the roof to bear that weight.

Chris has said that I was welcome to help as much or as little as I would like/have time for. With all her experience, I am very eager to learn as much from her as possible. Our package of bees came a bit earlier than we were ready for, so we kept them in Powderhorn for a bit until the city gave us the ok to move them to our house. The bees come in the mail from California and can be in the box they were shipped in for a week. They are given a can of sugar water to sustain them.

Here I am releasing 10,000 bees, no biggie. You spray them with sugar water to calm them a bit and then dump them in the hive box. You really have to whack at them to get them all out.

Bee dump.
This is how the queen comes. There is one queen per package of bees (one package = one hive). You can see how there are many other worker bees tending to her and feeding her. After you pry off that mesh you have to be very careful that she doesn't fly away or get crushed when you are putting her in the hive. No queen means a dead hive.  If you do accidentally kill her or lose her. you can order another queen, but it is a bit pricey.

So we unleashed the bees into the two new hives and then we left them there for a few weeks. We moved them onto our roof last Sunday because the conditions were right. You have to do it when it is either dark or under 50 degrees and since we have to go in and out Eloise's bedroom window, the morning seemed like the other time. I got up early on Mothers day and helped her move the hives. We put a screen over their entrance and exit hole and ratcheted it down with straps and threw the boxes in her car.

This is how they look now up on our roof. They will continue to get taller with more boxes and frames as the season goes on and as fall approaches we will harvest the honey. She will get the majority of the honey and we will get some of the harvest. She said last year she got over 5 gallons of honey.

Here she is organizing the frames so that they are an equal distance apart from each other. The bees will mess up the honeycomb if the spacing is incorrect. The hive boxes need maintainence every 7-10 days, which involves rotating the frames in the boxes and adding new boxes on top as the hive grows. At some point we will put a queen excluder on which will keep the queen down below and above the excluder will be just honey frames.
We spotted the queen on the frame (closest to the edge). It is also interesting to see how they are forming the honeycomb on frame. The black sheet is just plastic to help them start.

Well, more updates to come in the next few months. It will be exciting to see our plants being pollinated, to help the environment as well as learn as much as possible.


newhomeeconomics said...

SO COOL! What an ideal situation. If you hear through the grapevine of someone else in a situation like this, I would be interested in having bees at my home. Although, the full-sun detail is new to me and makes me wonder if we have a spot at all. Going to have to think about that.

Can't wait to hear how this all goes!

laehmc said...

I loved all the information you provided about how how the bee hive can to you. I am anxious to continue the progress. Will the honey be available for sale so I can have one small bottle at Rosh hashannna?