Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Beekeeper.

M's gone pro.  After weeks of prep work, the bees all arrived and it was time to get them into their homes.  I took a day off work to lend a hand (not to mention a back, legs, feet, truck, etc...) and took plenty of photos.  
The day started with tea.  It continued with a lot more tea.  Throughout the day we'd say "Beekeepers and armies run on hot sweet tea!"  (Just finished reading Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment...) 
While M did some last minute construction and painting, I mixed up some bee food - poured fondant!
 (We love the cooking shows, and I realized why all those bakers either buy their fondant or use a mixer - that stuff is tough to mix by hand and not make a giant mess!)  
Fondant ready to go!  (we're mixed on using this as food.  In the hot locations, it dried out very fast.  But it didn't require punching holes in a mason jar lid either, so we'll see.  Currently it's all we've used to feed the bees in addition to the can of syrup they arrived with.)  
We had packed the bulk of the materials into the truck the night before.  Off we went through the Santa Cruz mountains to a gorgeous location.  It was a bit of a drive to get there, more than once I asked M if he was sure he wasn't going to leave me stranded, and a few bars of Dueling Banjos was hummed.  We were going slow on the road, the photo is just blurry from the bumps!  

(At one point he said the truck felt sluggish.  We're going up a hill with 80% some odd grade, and 24 cinder blocks and plenty of wood in the back.  That's 1020 pounds of concrete alone on little trucks 4 cylinders!)  
Eventually, we arrive!   Before unloading, we took a walk around the property to scout a good site for the six hives.  
The water features are all rain water.  The property has large cisterns that collect water runoff and then cycle it through the fountains and water features.  
Fruit trees all over. 
Did I mention they are off the grid? 
We found a spot that was ideal for the bees (lots of early morning sunlight), ideal for the people (not too close to walking paths), and ideal for a beekeeper (fairly close to a road for loading and unloading.)  Time to unload!  
The hive bases and stands were unloaded first.  The "runways" are each painted different colors to help each bee identify her home.  (and it's pretty!)  

I set to work unpacking the cinder blocks that would make the base of the stands.  The cinder blocks add height to help the bees fight off raccoons and skunks (not to mention saving a beekeeper from bending!) and help with the ant-proof bases.  
Cinder blocks would be unloaded from the truck three or four at a time on the hand truck, then rolled to the top of the path where the hand truck is in the photo.  
From there, I would walk each one down to stack just above the hive locations.  I tried wheeling it down, the weight of the hand truck was more of a fight then just walking them.  (And one or two jumped free, nearly crushing blackberry bushes!) 
Finally!  Almost done!  While I was hard at work unloading the truck, M was moving earth.  Literally.  
He made two platforms for the hives - three to each side. 
We got the chicken wire (another raccoon and skunk deterrent) down, and set the cinder blocks as well.  And meet Charlie, the resident dog! 
The hive stands were placed on next.  We had four of the bottom boards with us as well, so those were set.  Empty truck, time to head back for a second load of goodies and lunch!  (and tea!)
Back at the house, M finished up some more painting and construction while I loaded the truck.  I loved how colorful it was looking.  And I think the bed cupholders are hilarious.  
We quickly unloaded the truck and set the rest of the components of the hives up:  brown hive stands and brown bottom boards.  Green mite traps.  Red brood supers with frames.  Blue brood supers with no frames.  Blue inner and telescoping covers.  
It's a bit hard to see with the sun reflection, but the pattern of colors for the runways was varied.  Since there were three colors and six hives, the colors repeated twice.  The goal is that the bees would know they were the blue on the edge, or the green in the middle.  

The hives set, we ran back to the house again to pick up the most important piece...
bees!!!!   Six packages of Italian honeybees. 

Back at the apiary, we suited up.  The owners both arrived home around this time.  We got Jody to put a jacket on with us, but Noel choose to watch from afar.  I put petroleum jelly on the hive stand bars (keeps ants out) while M removed the wood from the packages.  Smoker lit in case of stings, and down the hill we went.  

The hiving went smoothly, we worked easily together to get the bees into the hives, the queens placed in their packages between frames, and the hives closed with both their cans of syrup and a bit of fondant patty on some wax paper on the inner cover.  We moved all of our tools back to the truck, took off our suits, and looked at the view. 
I think the bees are going to be very, very happy.  

As we drove away, I had M stop the truck so I could take a few more photos of the property, complete with the "dream come true" beehives.  
I think they fit in beautifully!  

And keeping with our Muses, this apiary has been named Polyhymnia.  It's the perfect name for this lovely retreat center that wishes for its guests to walk the grounds and snack on the fruit that they find growing as they head to a drumming circle.  

As we drove back, we stopped by Thalia to see how she is doing.   Thalia had been hived a few days before Polyhymnia.  Her bees were active and happy.  
We collected the packages that had been left for straggler bees to escape from, fed them some fondant, and closed them up for the evening. 

And finally.... dinner!  Hot tea on the drive home!  A shower!  and some very well earned rest! 

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