Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bee Garden

So, if I'm going to be responsible for taking about 20,000 honeybees from their nice snug home, have them rudely and violently shaken into a small cage and stick them with some high and mighty Queen that they don't even know, then I suppose I should make a nice place for them to live, right?  The hive body itself is one thing, their surroundings is something else.  Thus, my latest hairbrained idea.......the bee garden. 

Now, I know the actual benefit from planting a bunch of bee-friendly flowers around the hives is probably about nil.  Since it takes about *two million flowers to make one pound of honey and I'm only guessing that the amount of pollen collected from these same flowers might be only slightly better.  The actual number of flowers I'll be planting isn't quite in the million range =)  Despite this, I'm hoping to at least have a visually pleasing place for the bees to live.  And I suppose at the very least, my wife should love the flowers.  I am no landscape architect to be sure but here is my concept:

I wanted to put the garden and hives in the back corner of my property so a triangle shape seemed fitting.  I plan on lining the edges with some cheap brick (about 150+ of them by my estimate) and on the two opposite corners I am going to stack the bricks up two or three levels to create a raised bed for some herbs.  Splitting the triangle in two will be a walking path.  Not sure if I will mulch it with some bark or maybe even some gravel.  At the right-angle corner will be a wider area where the hives will go.  The entrance of each hive will be facing generally South, so they should point to the back corner.  This should make it easy to approach the hives as well as enjoying the flowers without being directly in the flight path of the bees.  Originally I thought to have a bird bath in between the two hives but my wife had read that the bees like to "cleanse" as they leave the hive so it isn't a good idea to put their water source right in their flight path (or poo-path as the case may be).  So, as you can see in the drawing, I think I will put the bird bath in the middle of the walking path instead.  The edges of the path around the bird bath are shown as straight but I'm planning on bowing them outward a bit to follow a semi-circle around the bird bath. 

Planning on the general layout of the garden was the easy part.  Selecting the flowers, determining the area they would take up, the season in which they would bloom and how tall they would be was much more difficult.  A lot of research went into this and I bet the final result won't look quite like the drawing.  I was hoping to save some money by growing most of the flowers from seed.  Sadly, in the course of my studies, I found that the majority of flowers I selected were perennials that would not bloom the first year if I chose to grow them from seed.  The Coneflower and Zinnia are the ones I am going to try growing from seed.  Hopefully the color comibinations of the various flowers won't end up looking like someone scattered a random selection of paint cans in the back yard!  My wife will be the ultimate judge.

With all the planning done, I had to start the actual work.  I had read that the best time to start a new garden bed was in the late fall.  One method is to turn over all the grass/sod so the roots are facing the sky.  This is suppose to kill all the grass over the winter and come Spring you can till all the now dead grass into the soil and provide a nice infusion of decaying organic matter for the soil.  With my luck, I will end up with grass growing between every brick and under both hives!  All I can say is that I REALLY underestimated the amount of manual labor involved in turning a 30' x 30' area.  I thought I was in pretty good shape since I attend kung fu classes and play in volleyball leagues on a regular basis.  Well, it won't be the last time I was wrong about something. 

All in all it took me around 8 - 10 hours over the course of about a month.  I would work for an hour or so here and there when I got the chance.  I started at the long end and thankfully each row I turned over got shorter and shorter as I worked toward the narrow end.

At least I finished before the snow hit!  Well, one more thing off the bee checklist.  Next?  Order my packages of bees right after New Year's day!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I've Been Framed!

Since deciding which bee suit/veil combination was such as dramatic struggle for me, it wouldn't be possible that making all the equipment decisions would be any easier!  Fortunately or not, I have already read three books on beekeeping (Beekeeping for Dummies, Complete Idiots Guide to Beekeeping and The Beekeepers Bible) and turning what I've read into a concrete action is a big deal.  Each book has a different philosophy and approach to what kind of boxes to use (all mediums or mediums and deeps), what style of hive (Langstroth, Top Bar, etc) and frames (plastic foundation, foundationless, Honey Super Cell).  So after much consternation I decided what approach to use and ordered all my equipment, minus one Langstroth style hive that my son-in-law built for my birthday.  Despite some reading to the contrary, I decided to use two deeps for brood and then mediums for all the honey supers.  I also decided that I like the idea of a more "natural" approach and I will be using some Honey Super Cell (HSC) frames to start my packages on and have foundationless frames for the rest.  Well, who knew how expensive HSC frames would be?  I planned on starting with two hives in the spring but at $6.25 per frame, that is $125 for 20 frames!!  Shipping cost is not included either!  I had read similar reactions on other blogs so I am going with a half way approach.  I bought 10 frames of HSC and I will put my packages on 5 frames in each box.  I'll make some follower boards for the extra space in the 10 frame boxes.  Once the queen is using the all HSC frames to lay in, I will slowly introduce my foundationless frames.  After the first generation of bees is born they should all be regressed and they can build whatever cell size they want on the foundationless frames.  We'll see if theory turns into reality.

Speaking of frames, I have enjoyed assembling them so far.  I really want to build all my own boxes but the detail in the frame pieces (not to mention the quantity of them) made me steer clear of attempting to make those myself.  Here is my first effort at frame assembly
and wiring....
It has been a long time since High School wood shop, but I managed to assemble eight frames so far and I still have all my original fingers!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Decisions Decisions

You wouldn't think choosing a particular type of bee suit and veil would be an epic task of life changing proportions.  But when you start making a decision from a base of zero experience and no real point of reference you can get hung up on an endless stream of what ifs.  I like the way the collapsable veil looks and the only potential drawback that I can see is that you can turn your head and the veil does not turn with you.  The other types of hanging veils attached to a pith helmet wouldn't seem to have the same issue.  Not sure if there are any other factors to even consider.  So after way too much obsessing, I finally made a decision and bought it.

Sad to say that if it took this much analysis to determine one of the simplest items I will need to start beekeeping, what will it take to decide something really important!