For my recent birthday Build-It Bloke gave me a hive of bees! But wait, it's even better than that. Following the lead of several other friends, he arranged for them to come from a local scaling-down beekeeper who is willing to share his skills and expertise to ensure his bees find appropriate homes.
We had to wait for suitable warm weather for the bees to arrive and enable us to open the hive. Eddie, the beekeeper, and I both donned protective veils and overalls and I admit being a little nervous when he said gloves were unlikely to be required. He lit the smoker, but didn't use it beyond applying a little smoke to his hands. The bees were remarkably unconcerned about Eddie removing and inspecting each of the frames from the hive. He showed me the different activities going on - workers, drones, larvae, brood, honeycomb and, after a bit of searching, the queen. (A lovely Italian bee who is apparently in good shape and laying well ... exactly what you'd hope she's doing at this stage). I, too, held the frames with my [still bare] hands, and there was not even a hint of threat that I might be stung. It was fantastic.
We added a second super (box) to the first, and Eddie expects they'll be ready for the third one in about a month. This is essentially expanding the living quarters for the bees. Hopefully they'll find it suited to their needs and stay rather than swarm. I also had lesson one in 'bee pests and diseases' so I can keep an eye on things, and with that, I think I have commenced my beekeeping apprenticeship!
We've located the hive at the bottom of the block, where there's a three metre drop under the bees' 'flight path' into the hive ... so no one will unintentionally wander into their way. We checked that our neighbours were ok with the idea before they arrived. Our council permits beekeeping in town, and the hive is registered with the DPI. Eddie thinks they'll find it to be a good spot, with the River Red Gums along the Murray only about a kilometre away, some other native vegetation along the nearby hilltops and lots of variety from the suburban gardens in the vicinity. He says the bees will happily forage up to five kilometres from the hive.
The reactions from people when I say we've recently added a beehive to our suburban menagerie fall broadly into two categories. The first involves a horrified look, a negative exclamation, often mention of allergies and you can almost hear the mental note being made to themselves not to come anywhere near our backyard in future. The second is more positive, usually includes reference to fresh honey and frequently the comment that their parent/grandparent/friend/neighbour is or was a beekeeper.
Why am I so excited about having a beehive in the backyard? Well because it's taking our previous efforts to attract bees, through planting and a half-hearted plan to provide native bee habitat, to a whole new level. For us, the big draw card bees offer is the pollination of our fruit, vegetables and other plants. They may also provide honey, beeswax, mead or other bonuses, but those are secondary to the pollination. While for most of our consumption we have to rely on sourcing from 'responsible' producers (at best), we are keen to take some of that responsibility ourselves, like we do when growing some food and keeping chooks. We'll know the conditions the bees were kept in and how any honey or other by-products have been produced and processed.
I'm busy reading up (books and online), comparing notes with friends and arranging to learn more from both Eddie and other beekeepers. We're also growing additional bee attracting plants and are still keen to encourage the native bees too (the blue banded ones are exquisite) ... hopefully we can accommodate both. Oh, and I'm mesmerised every day as I watch the bees leave and return to the hive and go about their business (or is that buzziness? Hey, I resisted all the puns until then, but I'm only human!).