1 Comment

For two years an Oakland beekeeper kept a beehive in our backyard. After he went missing-in-action when our last colony died off in the fall our neighbor, Dell, and I decided we should go ahead and learn the art and science of beekeeping ourselves. What that has meant practically is that for the last three months I've been learning beekeeping while Dell has been fronting half of the start-up costs for two hives. I read some books about beekeeping, attended the Alameda County Beekeeper's Association meetings, visited other beekeeper's hives in Alameda, and took a local "Introduction to Beekeeping" class. 

It has proven to be an intellectually stimulating and exciting diversion from chasing around a toddler, hanging laundry, and cooking meals. The more I've studied, the more intrigued and excited I've become. The science of honey bees is fascinating, and I've been reminded why I was a science major in college. Every time I get home from a class or a meeting I spend the rest of the evening regaling Paul with random facts about bee behavior. For example, the queen bee leaves the hive once in her lifetime when she mates with several males in mid-air.  Then she returns to the hive to lay approximately 1,000 eggs a day, every day, for the rest of her life until she dies, gets displaced in the hive by a younger queen, or gets eaten by said younger queen.

Last week, I suited up in a full beesuit for the first time to inspect three colonies at an fellow beekeeper's house a few miles from here. I came home encouraged that I now know enough to begin colonies of my own.

I've been having many nighttime dreams about bees, and have been wringing my hands about where and how I wanted to procure the bees to fill our two hives. Finally, yesterday I got a call from a veteran beekeeper that I could come to catch a swarm with him.  It was an exciting afternoon as we had to capture the swarm that was 25 feet high in a tree. The end result was that my neighbors and I drove home from Berkeley with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 bees in my trunk. Today as Paul, Madeleine, and I checked on the hive several times, we witnessed hundreds of bees taking their inaugural flights around Dell's backyard as they got their bearings around their new home.

I hope to capture another swarm before the swarm season ends this month to put in the other hive. We'll probably get a honey harvest this year, although some beekeepers have warned me it will probably be "small" -- just 50-60 pounds per hive this year since we're starting from nothing. That will be just fine with me. When Dell and I decided to do this in January, it was because we wanted all our fruit trees well pollinated, so the thought of honey was like the icing on the cake. Now, of course, I'm pretty excited by the prospect of a honey harvest too.

It's a little tricky to make out, but the first photo shows the swarm of bees clinging to a tree limb 25 feet up in the tree. To capture them we attached a painter's bucket with metal hinges to a long pole, raised the bucket to just beneath the swarm, gave it a sharp jab, and all the bees fell into the bucket. Then we literally poured the thousands of bees into my waiting hive on the ground. At dusk, when all the remaining bees found their way into the hive, we closed it up and popped it in the trunk for the ride home. Dell and his wife Pat decided that to celebrate we should stop for a drink on the way home. Before going into the bar and after coming out, we opened the trunk to let the bees get some fresh air. They survived their trip just fine, no worse for the celebratory stopover.

4/4/2016 10:31:21 pm

Ann, As an "urban beekeeper" have you ever considered your neighbors? After all, the houses are closely placed in the Bay area. Have you ever considered that a neighbor might be allergic to stings? As for me, I have lost the use of my backyard due to my beekeeping neighbor. Today there was a swarm so thick that it blocked out the sun! Where are my rights in all of this?


Leave a Reply.