Expanding the hives!

   The girls are bringing home the pollen!

  They’ve really drawn out a lot of honeycomb in just two days!  Some cells are filled with nectar.

  Oblio checking out the bees while Julia relocates the feeder to the new box.

  Dawn and Julia both moving frames of writhing bees!

  Julia rearranging bee frames.

 Day’s work completed!

Today Julia and completed our first tasks since bringing the bees home:  checking to make sure Queen Jaime was out of her box, and preparing Queen Shura to be freed into her box.  To free the queens, we removed the cork at the end of her box and quickly replaced it with a marshmallow.  Then the boxed queen goes back into the hive, and within a day or so, she and the workers will eat through the marshmallow and the queen will be free in the hive.  You can’t just release them when you first bring them home, as the queens were from different hives, so the bees  need time to get to know them first.  We also added one more box to each hive, making more room for the bees to draw comb on.
The bees have definitely been out working today.  I watched them bringing home pollen all day long, and they’ve clearly been busy drawing comb.  It’s so cool to watch them build out their new home!

Now we leave them alone until next week, when we will check to make sure the new queens are still alive in the hives and laying eggs. 

How 20 Mason Bees turned into 20,000 Honey Bees practically overnight!

It started innocently enough about a month ago with the birds, who I am always feeding and luring into my ultra-urban little back yard on Capitol Hill in Seattle.  I wanted to get more cherries in my apathetic cherry trees (for the birds to eat,) and my local wild bird store was selling Mason Bees.  So I got a Mason Bee kit and started researching bees, and found myself enamored with them.

Meanwhile, while happily watching the mason bees do their bee thing, I started to wonder about honey bees, which lead to many hours of reading and watching videos on honey bees.

Last Wednesday I was talking with my sweet friend beekeeper friend Derek over dinner, and he was so animated and excited that I caught the buzz.  Friday I had lunch with another beekeeper friend,  Marguerite, which lead to me coming over to help her check her hives that afternoon. She told me that if I wanted to keep bees this year I had to start immediately, as bees were coming this weekend, and it would be too late if I wasn’t up and running with the next couple of weeks.

Saturday morning I went to a funeral for dear friend and coworker, 38 years old, who died in her sleep with no history of health problems, who apparently had an undiagnosed brain tumor.  It’s been an intense week of grief.  Right after the funeral I got a message from Derrek, who invited me over to help him split a hive and examine his bees.  Hungry for something life-affirming, I headed right over.

That afternoon Derek told me he had orered two boxes of bees (bees come in boxes?!?) arriving the next day, but thought he only needed one…so there was one box left that I could buy!  Next thing I know I’m at  Ballard Bee Company buying two hive kits from Corky, and then was up until 1am building and painting boxes.

Sunday morning, I had breakfast with my friend and neighbor Julia, a professional gardener who has always wanted to keep bees, and she excitedly nominated herself as co-beekeeper!  So Julia spent the rest of the morning helping me build frames, then off we went to watch Derek and his boyfriend Abe release a box into Derek’s hive to learn how it was done (Julia’s first time in the bees, and she was immediately as smitten as I was), and the next stop was Ballard Bees, for our own two boxes!

The thrill of 6 pounds of beez buzzing in the back of my tiny Smart Car was electric!

We got them home and housed in our two newly built hives…and that’s how 20 Mason Bees turned into 20,000 honey bees practically overnight!

There has been something incredibly life-affirming and healing about starting bees in the week immediately following an unexpected death.  I am excited about collaborating with my friends, learning lots of new things, and getting to know the Jaimies and the Shuras (the hives are named after my lost friend/co-worker Jaime and my old housemate Shura, who died of breast cancer 4 years ago and who gardened in these bee’s yard).

Julia and I are both avid learners, and are thrilled to be collaborating on this new project.

Derek told me earlier this week that “Every beekeeper you meet is a wonderful person.  They are usually quirky and odd and interesting, and every one has a heart of gold.  You have to be an awesome person to keep bees.”  We’ve already found this to be so true!