Wednesday, May 16, 2012

To Bee... or Not to Bee...

What farm would be complete without it's own bees to pollinate the crops and produce delicious honey?  Or so we thought...  Right now, I'm feeling a bit apprehensive as I think about the 2 colonies of bees waiting for me in the backyard.  What if I can't do it?  What if I freak out while checking the hives and send them into an angry, stinging tizzy?  Ok, maybe I'm being a little over dramatic...

The two empty hives of either side of the smaller"nuc" boxes.  Each box contains one bee colony that will need to be moved to the hives soon.

Like many people, I have always been fascinated by the idea of beekeeping.  It sounds so "one with the earth", almost mystical in a way.  It seems the more humans learn about bees, the more we realize how little we actually know about them.  I've been reading beekeeping books for about a year now and while I feel as though I have a vague idea of how to care for them, I have a feeling I'm about to find out how clueless I really am. 

John and I wanted bees for the obvious reason - the delicious honey!  But we're also slowly building a small fruit orchard and we have a large garden, so I was keen on having our own pollinating team on board with Third Day Farms.  Having some beeswax around would be nice too - I make my own lip balm and lotions using beeswax.

A few months ago we contacted a fellow by the name of Zeb who runs hives and sells the raw honey (if you live in West Michigan and want to purchase some of his honey, contact him at  Oh boy, is this goooooooooood stuff!  Zeb doesn't heat his honey, just filters it, so you get all the bits of pollen, tiny particles of honey comb, etc.  Raw, local honey is said to have many health benefits, including protection from allergies.  The theory is that by ingesting small amounts of local honey, you are being "vaccinated" with the pollen of plants that cause your allergies.  There has not been enough research conducted to prove if this theory is correct, but I will share that since we starting buying local, raw honey, my husband's terrible seasonal allergies disappeared.  Completely.  No more expensive allergy medications with crappy side effects (and filled with who knows what).  Honey is a much tastier and healthier medicine, wouldn't you agree?  Try it.  It certainly can't hurt and it just might help.  And you will be supporting a local farmer!  You've got nothing to lose.  Just make sure you buy raw honey - heating destroys the benefits.  I don't think raw honey is sold in grocery stores - if you want some, either contact Zeb, check at a farmers market, or look on Craigslist. 

Half gallon of delicious raw honey

When we went to pick up our gallon of honey (I use it for making homemade granola and Honey Oatmeal Bread - it's most economical to buy in bulk and honey does not expire), we ended up asking him a bit about keeping bees.  Upon further discussion, John and I decided we would like to try our hand at beekeeping, for the reasons mentioned above.  I contacted Zeb a few weeks later, and he graciously agreed to help get us set up with some hives and colonies of bees. 

So after driving home in the car with thousands of angry bees in the backseat, here I sit with 2 empty hives in my backyard and two boxes full of bees.  Each box contains a colony - basically a queen and all her minions.  My job in the next few days is to move the bees out of the box and into the hives that will become their permanent homes.  It shouldn't be hard.  When I picked up the bees from Zeb, he was kind enough to demonstrate the technique for me, how you smoke the bees and then lift the frames out of the box, covered in swarming bees.  Watching him work, I thought to myself "Well now, that doesn't look so bad.  I can do that!".  My fears were abated... for now.  It might be a different story when I'm the one out there by myself surrounded by those buzzing bees!  But really, fears aside, I was able to observe how gentle the bees are.  They are not aggressive.  They don't want to attack.  They just want to be left alone.  I think I can do this.  I think....

A peek inside the empty hive.  There are currently 5 frames hanging in this hive.  The queen will lay her eggs in the cells in these frames and some cells will be filled with honey for the bees to eat.  This frame is full of honey and will be a food source for the bees as they explore their new home turf and create a established colony in this hive.  The "nuc" boxes shown above also contain 5 frames.  Those 5 (with the bees crawling all over them) will to be added to the 5 in the hive, making a total of 10 frames in the hive.  

My bee suit and smoker should be arriving any day now.  When they arrive, I'll have no excuse to wait any longer.  Gulp.  Here we go.  Wish me luck!

*You may notice I didn't use much fancy beekeeping lingo in this post.... that's because I really don't know what I'm talking about.  I'm not going to lie and act like I know more than I actually do.  You're going to have to learn as I do!  It's like learning a whole new vocabulary - a bit overwhelming at first, but I'm sure I'll catch on sooner than later, right?


  1. Good luck with the bees, Lori! My step-dad LOVES it so far (he helped a good friend with it for a while first so he has some idea of what he's doing) When he talks about the bees it really is fascinating. And I never thought I would say that. :)


  2. Lori, great blog. I'd been curious about the honey/bee pollen/season allergies thing before, and finally just bought some local honey this morning. I will see how my allergy symptoms improve.

  3. I hope it works! Some sites suggest actually taking the honey like medicine, about 2-3 tsp a day. But it seems to me consuming it on toast or in yogurt would work too, just as long as the honey doesn't get heated.