When the pandemic hit, many of us took on tasks or hobbies that were put off or just dreamed about. Older, more susceptible people were most confined at home, so greater was the need of selective human contact and positive distractions such as hobbies.
So after we closed the Bee d’Vine tasting bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Building (February 2020) I got involved with beekeeping with my mother, Sara. The Bee d’Vine Instagam post was, “when the going gets tough, the tough go beekeeping!”
But you don’t have to wait for the next pandemic. Why not do the same for Mother’s Day and share a gift that keeps on giving – honey & pleasure and an occasional invigorating bee sting. Every rose has its thorn as the saying goes…
Spring is a great time to start as flowers are obviously in bloom now. It’s easier than imagined, and I’ll share what we did to get started to make it even easier.
It was always an avocation I aspired to – inspired by the interesting and friendly beekeepers who supply the Honey Wine Co with delicious honey to make Bee d’Vine. And beekeeping, aside from the lifting of heavy supers (we found a solution for this) – is very suitable for young & old.
There is something very calming about being around bees – working around bees calmed by smoke hives while being rewarded with some honey.
Doing this shared activity with my mom was great because when we became focused on one (new) thing any disagreements faded into the background all while temporarily forgetting the boredom and dreadful news of 2020.
If you don’t have a garden, explore a rooftop hive or hives in/near a local community garden. Every community has a local beekeeper association so resources are plentiful.
Step 1: Decide on the type of hives. There are traditional Langstroth box hives and more rarer top bar and even more rarer Warre hives.
We decided on the Warre hive, partly because of the smaller size, which makes the supers lighter to carry, but also because of the natural way that the bees function within this hive.
It’s closer to a hollow opening of a tree than it is a commercial honey extraction device. You can opt to get a fully painted/stained one or paint/stain yourself. We stained our Warre hive ourselves with tung oil as this is more natural than paint.
Here are some reference books we bought, but we hardly read them to be honest (the beauty of beekeeping is that you can make it as easy or as hard as you want without really messing up). Bees will do what they were put on the planet to do in spite of your good intentions or interventions.
Some other interesting books related to bee crafting, recipes, and even poems! These we did read.
Step 2: Find a local beekeeper who will give you a queen bee and some bees (or much easier, order some online). to put in the box.
You can also go the natural route, by rubbing lemongrass on the hive. If you live in the a suburb or rural area it will most likely get inhabited by bees naturally.
We are lucky enough to know to know several local beekeepers so did a drive to one of them. On the way back bees were flying around the car but no stings fortunately.
Step 3: Shake the bees inside the hive (if you procured bees, that is, otherwise wait for the wild bees to inhabit).
Step 4: Optional, feed the bees sugar syrup to get started. While we did this step as insurance, you may not need it, as there’s no one giving bees sugar syrup in nature.
That’s it! A few months later you can collect honey. If you do, don’t take more than 20% in the first year. Many opt not to harvest any honey at all. We didn’t harvest anything for a full year so our bees can get well established, but there is nothing wrong if you take out a little. Remember this is thier food.
If you want more honey than that about 20% then you may have to feed the bees honey in winter (since you’ve robbed their provisions) which is less natural and more work than we wanted to do anyway.
Preferably, simply get more hives if you want more honey. Actually that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend, ordering another hive!
Cheers, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Note, the Bee d’Vine homepage is updated with a similar picture, top one, of mom during recent harvest.