I’ve decided to start this journal/blog on our (wife and i) first attempt/year at bee keeping. We really are anxious to learn as we have no idea what we are doing, outside of the several books and hours of videos we have seen. We are also taking a beekeeping class hosted by our local bee society, but they meet once a month and we have not yet met at their apiary (that’s the next class in a few weeks) to get real, hands on experience with the bees. So I thought it would be a good idea to keep an online record as a means of soliciting experienced advice and commentary
So before I dive into week 1 of our beekeeping journey, I’ll give you some background on the apiary we are still in the process of building up. I won’t go into the details of why my wife and I decided to keep bees, I’ll just say it’s something we really wanted to do for many (good) reasons. The timing was right as we had JUST removed our backyard pool and had a lot of free space: should we turn that area into a greenhouse? What about an above ground/elevated garden bed? Should I put up some lawn furniture and place a BBQ there? Hey…..how about we keep bees there? BINGO!
So once we decided that we wanted to keep bees and had a general idea of where they would go, started setting up some bee friendly plants and germinating seeds to grow our own plants. I also had to consider three main factors: is it legal/permitted where I live (in the suburbs of Los Angeles), how will this affect my neighbors, and will my dogs be able to co-exist with the bees as they would share the backyard.
The legal aspect was a bit confusing at first: LA County had recently (2015) legalized urban/backyard beekeeping after decades of prohibition due to the massive decline in local bee populations. But cities within the county have their OWN rules, regulations, and zoning for such activities, so I had to dig around until finally finding solid legal language/material that spelled it all out. So long as I register with the county and follow some basic requirements (spacing, wall height, square footage requirements, etc.), I was zoned and legally allowed to keep bees.
The neighbor component also went well: I did my research which suggested my neighbors—with some minor exceptions, like if they had a pool—probably wouldn’t even notice/know that I had hives unless I told them. As it happened, all of my immediate neighbors were fine with the hives, my neighbors who are behind me even telling me that their mother keeps bees After 6 days of having the bees, my neighbors have not noticed them (they didn’t even know I had installed them yet). I am careful to be considerate though: for example, on Sunday my wife and I planned to get into the hives at around 12ish….but when we walked into our backyard, we saw our neighbors in THEIR backyard…..holding a birthday party for their toddler (and 30 other toddlers and their parents). While I do believe the bees wouldn’t have bothered them, I decided to wait until the party was over to avoid any sort of hard feelings or anger if a toddler/someone happened to get stung. With urban beekeeping where my neighbors share a common wall dividing our properties, some consideration and compromise is necessary.
Finally, my dogs: this was my biggest concern. Although all of the advice/articles/info I read on urban beekeeping and dogs basically said that the dogs will figure it out one way or the other to leave the hive alone, my dogs are particularly curious and I really did not want to deal with them getting stung/hurt/traumatized. SO…I built a little chicken wire fence around the hive space which works perfectly! It gives a few feet of buffer between the dogs and the hives. It will also help protect against some of the local critters we have such as skunks, raccoons, and opossums, although I’m not sure by how much.
This brings us to last weekend, when we picked up our two (Italian) hives. I was really nervous since I don’t have a truck, just a sedan/car. I contacted the bee seller and asked if I needed to rent a truck and they were very kind: they told me that the entrances would be secured and screened and that my Nissan Altima would be fine. They were right! Even with some hitchhikers riding on the outside of the hives, we had zero problems driving home (ad the hitchhikers just relaxed on the top of the hives).
When we arrived home, we unloaded the bees, donned our bee suits, and unsealed the hives. The bees came streaming out but we received no stings and we saw no stings on our suits when we eventually took them off. Over the next few days we just marveled at the activity of the bees, the calmness of the bees, and their gentleness: we can get SO CLOSE to the hive, even touch it or manipulate it and the bees just don’t care. I’ve had a few bump and buzz me, so when that happens I just slowly back away. When bees tell you that you are getting too close, it’s probably a good idea to listen to them.
So moving forward, and having only been in the hive (very briefly) ONCE, and that was after the neighbors party on Sunday, here are a few things we have learned this week.
1. You get what you pay for: I needed an extra hive tool and there was a sale where the tool came with a smoker and some other knickknacks so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. Well, I got what I paid for: the smoker is really a cheap hunk of junk. The lid pops off easily and it’s way too small. I did a little more research and picked up a much better (and larger) smoker which I will be using this weekend.
2. I did not know what I did not know: Even though I did a ton of research and knew how a Langstroth hive is built/works, it took me a while to figure out that (of course!) the hive lids had been nailed into the box (for transport purposes I assume) as well as the entrance reducer. I also didn’t realize that while we purchased two hives, they were clearly used/professional agricultural hives so they were pretty minimalist: no inner cover and simple top, not telescoping. While there is a lot of debate on weather either of those are required/necessary, with the little time I had in the hives last weekend I determined that they will benefit my hives, so I ordered them.
3. Too much fun: my biggest mistake so far is getting only 2 hives! Now that I see how enjoyable, fascinating, soothing (I love watching the bees fly around!), and interesting beekeeping is, I wish I had doubled down and purchased 4 hives (my max legal limit with the amount of land/property that I have). For the sake of cost/expense, we are going to work these two hives this year, but we are already talking about getting additional hives the following year, assuming we are successful with our current hives.
My wife and I will get into the hives this weekend for a real, genuine inspection and to add inner covers and telescoping tops. If necessary, we will also add another medium box to expand the brood chamber, but we will see if they need that yet. In the meantime, here is a cool slomo vid my wife shot of the bees at their busiest time of the day, around 3PM.
Last edited by thepurplem0nkey; 03-29-2018 at 10:42 AM.
Wife and I just finished our first major hive inspection on our two hives. VERY interesting and, let me add, those with experience make it look SO EASY I'll have pics later on today (the camera did not record for some reason and I was focused on working with the bees so video will have to be for the next inspection).
We wound up adding another medium box onto the 80% filled medium brood box of hive #1, the stronger of the two hives. We were also able to spot the queen (marked with a yellow dot, so 2017)! We took 4 frames out of the existing brood box and staggered them inside the new/upper box. Hive #1 had a lot of pollen, honey, nectar, and a mixture of all in some cases. I decided that feeding was unnecessary since the bees seem to be just fine on their own. I will be able to compare their progress (or decline?) to next week and have a better idea of what to do.
Hive #2 needs about one more week before we add another box AND we did not spot the queen, so maybe next week we will have more luck. I am not skilled to spot eggs, but I saw a lot of comb, nectar, pollen and capped brood. I THOUGHT I might have seen some eggs but again, no experience with that so I'll have to wait until the next bee class to get some expert instruction on this. It was about 70% filled out, so like I said, next week.
The gloves are terrible! They protected my hands from a few stingers that I spotted later, but boy does it make for cumbersome work!
Pics will be posted later once I figure out how to get them off my wife's DSLR.
Last edited by thepurplem0nkey; 04-01-2018 at 12:42 PM.
To my surprise, the video WAS recovered, but the amazing pictures my wife took of the pollen, brood, larvae, and queen bee won't be available until at least Wednesday (waiting for a CF card reader to come in).
As I mentioned in my previous post, we learned a LOT from this first hive inspection. Sort of like athletes watch post game video to help figure out where they need to improve, this really helped my wife and I get an idea of what we need to work on (i..e work a bit more deliberate/slower, a bit too much smoke, better use of our space, etc.).
Our first bee class with bees/working hives is in three weeks so we are hoping to gain some knowledge of what to look for or reinforce what we BELIEVE we are seeing in the hive.
Stay tuned for pics, but in the meantime, here is a simple vid.
Well I knew it was only a matter of time before I was stung, and sure enough I was stung in the left shoulder blade about a week ago. I must not have felt it when i was stung because I only noticed it when I got home from the gym and was drying off after a shower. When the towel rubbed against the sting, it felt to me like a mole/freckle had been scratched/scraped. The next morning it was a bit inflamed (about the size and feel of a giant zit ready to pop, and I'll spare you the gross details if how I treated it!), but after some basic care it was scabbed over by the end of the day. I think it became as nasty as it did because I didn't realize I was stung and the stinger probably stayed in there all night as I slept.
A few days later and I had a most unpleasant sting: I was watching the bees just for fun (so no veil/bee suit: just standing there minding my own business) and a gust of wind blew one right at my face, where it angrily stung me right on the cheek just beneath my left eye. I wiped the stinger/venom sack out pretty much as soon as I was stung, so the sting only hurt for about 5 minutes and I had very minimal puffiness. In fact, I drove to the market about 3 minutes after the sting with no problem. Everything was back to normal within a few hours with the skin becoming less and less tender as it healed.