Blackberry honey flow is on!


It’s only mid-May, but the blackberries are blooming, a whole month early, like every other flowering thing in our area.

All of my walks and runs around the neighborhood have become bee-scouting adventures, and I like discovering where they may be.  It won’t be a mystery where they are for the next few weeks; there are acres of blooming blackberries less than a half-mile from our house, and I spotted a lot of ladies there today. It makes my heart sing!

Unfortunately, the early bloom isn’t so great for our chances of a honey crop this year, as our newly-installed bees have’t had enough time to build up their population or draw out a lot of honeycomb yet, so the workforce is currently small.  Since we installed our boxed bees just 3 weeks ago, the first of the babies are just emerging now (they take around 21 days from egg to bee.)  At least they’ll have a great honey flow to fuel their efforts, but I doubt they’ll bring home enough for a surplus for the humans.  At this point, though, I’m really just rooting for them to build up strong enough to survive the winter.  But a taste of honey would be a sweet bonus.

The past few weeks have been consumed with binging on natural beeking books, vidoes, lectures, and websites. If I knew three weeks ago what I know now, I would have made a different start.  Our bees came from a commercial breeding facility in California.  As it turns out, starting with local mutt bees from hives that have survived Seattle winters would probably have given us a better chance at strong stock that will make it here.  And if we’d started with “nuc” hives (which include frames of bees, larvae, and honey) rather than boxes of just mature bees and a queen, we wouldn’t have had a three week perod of no new bees being born, which would have been a three-week head start.  It turns out we could have used that head start with this early blackberry season. Still, it is completely fascinating watching the bees build a home from scratch.  What an amazing thing to witness!

I still haven’t been stung, though I’m mostly working the bees with bare hands.  I’m starting to learn to read them and keep them gentle. They are good-natured girls, but the guards definitely can bring some attitude.  Not that I blame them.  Having irritated guards flying at my face has taught me that it’s probably wise to always wear a veil when opening the hive.  Better: learning how to work with the bees without antagonizing them.  It pains me every time I kill one and I’m trying with all of my  patience to not hurt even one if I can possibly help it.  It’s hard to move slowly when the girls start to get riled up, though.  


Bee yoga.

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!