Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jennifer Tyler: The Beginner Beekeeper, Part One

One afternoon last summer at our local farmers’ market, I decided I would keep bees this year. This came rather out of the blue, as I’d never considered the idea before nor did I know much about what “keeping bees” entails. With the encouragement of one of our local apiarists, I was sold on the idea as immediately as it came together.

Two complete hives-to-be

The first thing I did was buy Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees and read the first few chapters. I learned about the history of beekeeping, the life cycle of the honeybee, and some of the problems facing today’s honeybees. I was hooked. I signed up for an introduction to the beekeeping class led by my local organization, Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association, and waited out the winter by reading everything I could find about bees and their keeping.

Just four pieces of wood and a bunch of nails

February was all about bee school. Even with all the reading I’ve done, I’m so glad I spent the time to attend the classes. Once a week for 4 weeks, we spent close to 3 hours talking honeybees. I learned how to navigate the sea of available equipment, how best to treat the common issues in our area, and what to expect from our local environment. Best of all, the class was inexpensive and included a membership to the association, which has continuing education workshops all year long.

Hive body minus interior frames

Last weekend I took a trip to a small beekeeping supply company in Western Massachusetts to pick up my hives and most of the equipment I will need for the season. There are several wonderful companies that offer a comprehensive catalog of equipment through mail order, but I was glad to have the opportunity to meet in person the folks at Lagrant’s. They manufacture all the hive components in a shop next to the store and were more than happy to take the time to show me some of the finer points of assembling it all. I took home my two complete hives-to-be as several bags of wooden parts, feeling confident that by the end of the next day all would be built.

Wired: part one

That’s not exactly how it went. Sure, the big square supers for the hive bodies and honey went together — just four pieces of wood and a bunch of nails. The frames that sit inside were a different story.

Wired: part two

Each frame has several parts to put together and nail in place. We started using a regular hammer and nails because I like to do things as traditionally as possible but soon switched to a brad-nail air gun. It really did save a lot of time, hurt fingers, and broken wood. I had my boyfriend do most of the assembly while I wired the frame, which is strung with wire to hold the wax foundation in place.

The wax foundation is the best part: It smells so sweet — sweeter even than honey — and is wrapped with tissue paper to prevent it from melting together. Because I’m in the habit of saving anything that is still useful, I saved the wonderful-smelling paper to wrap gifts in. Once the foundation is laid on the wire, a tool that looks like a spiked pizza cutter embeds the wire in the wax, and the frame goes into the box, ready to be used by the bees to make comb for brood raising and honey storage.

Wired: part three

We spent that whole day working together on the supers and frames, and I spent an additional few hours this weekend. I only have 10 frames left to go, and then the hives will be complete and reading for painting!

Wired: part four

It sounds like a lot of work, but the whole process is really fun and relaxing. Like most other agricultural pursuits, the work is made light by knowing you are doing it all for something much greater than the self.

Jennifer Tyler works for Bank Square Books, an independent bookstore in southeastern Connecticut. When not reading or writing, she's playing with horses, dabbling in the fiber arts, or tending an organic vegetable garden with her boyfriend. Beekeeping and spinning are the latest projects in her effort to “homestead” on less than a quarter acre of rented land. Her search for authenticity is like a bottomless well.


Gardeningbren said...

I am so impressed by this...goodness, you have done a great job and the hive is coming together so well. We had bees years ago, and just took them for granted. Not so now.

One book we still have is ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture by Root but I didn't know Storey had a book about making a bee hive. Should have known!!

Anonymous said...

It's just a koinkydink that this article was posted this week! Just yesterday I was out helping (tagging along) w/ my father-in-law while mending fence and found what looked like old bee hives near our hay field. F-I-L told me some guy a few decades back had put them there and was going to put his kids through college selling honey. Dunno how that worked out for him, but it peaked my interest and I'm thinking I'm going to have to do more research. . .

Danilo Giachini said...

Can you also share your current status in this projects? How did it go? Do you have any thing to add to what you said or did in 2011?
We would appreciate it.

Thank you!
Dani Ferro

Anonymous said...

Hi Dani,
Jennifer did a few guest posts for InsideStorey in 2011. I just contacted her to see if she will write an update. Stay tuned . . . .