urban beekeeping

Look who's #7

I picked the worst year to become a beekeeper. Since 2006, bees have had a rough go of it and 2014’s polar vortex-induced deep freeze wiped out around 50% of the hives in Indiana (some areas had a 90% die-off rate). My first year keeping bees and I lost all five of my hives. 

It was also kind of a crappy year to take up farming. The winter delayed progress on my site’s build-out and spring plantings. I rushed to build the farm in time for spring plantings and it left me sore and exhausted. Then we had a weirdly wet and mild summer that stunted my fruiting crops like tomatoes.

All this might have been enough to discourage me, but it didn’t even come close. Because I had a tremendous amount of support from friends, family, the people I work with, and my community, it hardly made a dent. Thank you. 

This recent article from the Indy Star says they expect big things from me in 2015. And who am I to let them (you) down? 

Here, swarmy swarmy

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Another, super calm swarm showed up at Tyler and Laura’s (the site of the original swarmous). We still can’t figure out if either swarm came from their top bar hive, or if bees are just really attracted to their insanely beautiful home/urban farm. I’m guessing the latter. 

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This swarm was a bit tricky to capture… not as easy as shaking a tree branch into a box. I decided to scoop the bees up with my gloved hands (they felt like a heavy, vibrating blanket) and placed them into a cooler for quick transport to South Circle Farm. The bees probably thought they’d done died and gone to heaven. 

Sooooo, If you live in Indy and you see/hear of a swarm, give me a shout out. I’ll make sure they find a nice home. 

 

It's easy to bee confused

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When I first entered the world of beekeeping, boy was I confused. And I’m not just talking about that time I got stuck in my bee suit.

Few industries use so many interchangeable terms to describe their equipment and methodology as beekeeping. For example — the individual boxes that make up a Langstroth hive stack may be referred to simply as supers, or they may be called deeps, mediums or shallows, an indication of their size.

The beeswax comb that the bees build inside their nest might be called wax, or foundation, or comb, or brood comb, or honeycomb — similar terms and yet they mean different things. And how does one sort out the nuances of colony versus hive? Or frame versus top bar?

Read more: http://bit.ly/11VEj4V

Location, location, location

The bees arrive in a week. I will pick them up from Wildflower Ridge Honey Farm in a small box called a nucleus or “nuc." 

Compared to established hives, a nuc usually consists of just five frames of brood (baby bees), bees, and a queen. A mini-hive. 

Where will the hives go? Since Bee Public’s mission is to bring bees into cities, originally I wanted to put my hives in the most urban places I could think of. Rooftops, fire escapes. But luck, circumstance, and an amazingly supportive network of friends led me to these two locations for my first two hives. 

Hive location #1: Leah and Tito’s backyard in Fletcher Place

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Internet, meet Tito. Tito, The Internet. L + T are among my closest friends and they live just a few minutes from Fountain Square in the Fletcher Place neighborhood. Leah and I played roller derby together, so we have a very special bond. She and Tito have put a lot of hard work into their home and backyard so I’m so excited to bring a hive into such a gorgeous and well-nourished space. 

Hive Location #2: Arlington Farms, Indianapolis

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Christina Hatton of Arlington Farms is a busy bee. She and her husband teamed up with another family to start a brand new, 3-acre organic urban farm + CSA just south of Irvington. The bees from my hive will help pollinate the local produce growing there and I hope to learn a thing or two about what it takes to run an urban farm in the process. What a great partnership!

My next lesson will include figuring out the best spot on each property to place the hives. Sounds like future blog post fodder to me.

There's no place like hive

I met Stevie at Bee School. He’s Amish, has braces, and looks to be just shy of his 17th birthday. I’m not sure that last part is true, but I really like Stevie and I like that I can drive up to his bee supply store on his farm in Greencastle, Indiana (took me about an hour to get there from Fountain Square) to buy hives + other bee supplies.

I could just order online, but instead I wanted to 1. Buy local 2. Get my questions answered face to face 3. Have a cool experience. And I’ll take any excuse for a rural road trip + farm visit. 

Here’s where I bought my hives: 

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Other places you could buy your hives + beekeeping supplies: 

I realized I forgot to pick up a few things at Crystal Waters, so I may drive to RJ Honey just to have a different, local experience. 

Many questions like children often do

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The cool thing about beekeeping? (I mean, besides everything)? There’s a ton of info out there: websites, blogs, books, youtube videos, other beekeepers. 

Today there was a guy talking urban beekeeping at the Flower and Patio Show (above). Beekeeping is everywhere, you guys. 

All that info can be overwhelming for a a wannabe beekeeper. In Indiana we have TWO beekeeping associations to choose from. Why are there two, and which one do I join!? (I’ll answer that later)

At this point, a month before I “adopt” my bees, I have three questions weighing on my mind, which I’ll explore over three separate posts: 

1. How should I get my bees? (I already know the answer to this one! YAY!)

2. Who should I buy my hives from? (I don’t know!)

3. Where should my bees live? (I’m still not really sure, but I think I know!)

Stay tuned. 

It's nice to be niced

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Holy crap. Smallbox Web Design liked my idea for Bee Public so much, they gave me a $1000 Nice Grant to get it up and running. THANK YOU. 

How far will that get me? Pretty far. Here’s a list of what I’m going to need to get started: 

  • Hive setup (one hive includes: bottom board, 2 deep supers, 20 deep frames, 2 honey supers, 20 honey frames, queen excluder, inner cover, outer cover, entrance reducer + feeder): $200 each
  • Package of bees: $75 each
  • Clothing + tools (veil, gloves, smoker, hive tools, bee brush):$125
  • Medications and feed: $35
  • Bee school: ranges from $30-$150
  • Bee books: $30
  • Honey extraction: $15 

Total first year with two hives: around $900

Not to mention, I’m going to connect with as many beekeepers, advocates, and enthusiasts around the state as I can. I’ve got lessons to learn, stories to hear, and more nice people to meet. 

 

Bee poop and other things I hadn't thought of

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“Be prepared.” If I retained anything from being a Girl Scout, it was this motto. I’ve been known to keep snacks in my purse for just in case… for other people. 

So I’ve been brushing up: reading the bee books + blogs, watching TED talks, and will soon attend bee school. But I can only prep so much, right? This article  from Mother Earth News reminded me of a few things I hadn’t thought of yet. Mainly, bee poop. 

Here’s a simplified version of this article:  

Location:Where will the colonies go? Backyard, roof, balcony, maybe a community apiary, someone else’s property? The cardinal rule for bees and people is: out of sight, out of mind. Consider painting them a color that blends your boxes in with the surroundings.

Your neighbors: What do your neighbors think of your new hobby? You might wanna ask them. They probably don’t care, but they might. Most can be bribed with honey.

Zoning and ordinances: Now’s the time to make sure your area is zoned for bees, if some level of registration is required, and any other legal items are taken care of. Finding out later can be expensive. And will give you the sads. 

Insurance: Will insurance of some kind cover anything that might happen? A neighbor’s dog gets stung and you get sued. Vandals destroy your equipment. 

Bee poop: When bees leave the hive, they drop their waste. This material is usually golden brown, sticky, and very, very acidic. It’ll take the paint off cars, stain the siding on a house or clothes on a line. Avoid that. 

Watering your bees: Yep, bees need water close to the hive. On a hot summer day, a full-sized colony will use up to a gallon, even more.

Lucky for you, if you pay attention to this blog, you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes. Now there’s a motto for ya.