When The Daily Green and Bee Culture magazine asked urban beekeepers to send photos showing amazing feats of urban beekeeping, we heard from several illegal beekeepers, including several in New York City who -- as of today -- are no longer breaking the law.
If you're interested in keeping bees, Kim Flottum, the editor of Bee Culture, and The Daily Green's own Beekeeper, has provided the essential how-to in a series of articles for backyard beekeepers, urban beekeepers, rooftop beekeepers and anyone trying to establish their first hive. Spring is a great time to get started.
And now, an illegal beekeeper's story:
I am an illegal urban beekeeper. In my small Midwest town bees are classified as "pests." Pest indeed! In the first 16 years I lived in my house I never saw a honeybee. As a way to honor and remember my late father who kept 10 hives I decided to get a hive to release some swarms back into the wild.
I live toward the end of a tree-lined dead end street, surrounded by neighbors who don't use chemicals and are understanding about my mission. I live about a block from a clover- and flower-filled park with many dead and hollow trees ideal for a beehive.
I got my supplies from the fine folks at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and in early May my Italian package bees arrived from Rossman Apiaries. I installed the bees on a secluded upstairs porch. The bees thrived and in early June, they swarmed. Yippee.
The girls requeened and filled three hives -- two deep and one shallow -- for the winter. Not much to note during the winter. May arrived and the bees swarmed. Mission accomplished. They swarmed again a few weeks later -- an unexpected bonus. With each swarm the bees kept getting darker, the golden Italian almost completely replaced by the darker Carnolian. What hasn't changed is their gentleness ... although I did get stung once this summer for ignoring several of my rules:
The girls did well all summer. I added a second shallow super which I harvested recently. I got it off easily with no resistance. I then made a major mistake: I ignored the warning to extract in a bee-proof room. I did it in an unattached garage with the door open. After all, I thought, the bees were out front and the garage in the back. A few bees showed up: No problem; I closed the door. More got in through nooks and crannies ... By the time I was done extracting into a multi-use straining system thing were really humming. I put the lid on and opened the garage door. Bees came pouring in and this is when I discovered the straining system is not bee-proof. They stole back much of the honey I robbed from them. I had to abandon ship. Unfortunately many lives were lost by drowning in honey due to my poor planning.
I got stung again as I was coming in for the day. I realized it is not wise to wear sandals when bees are cleaning up spills in the garage, cleaning up honey left in the extractor and cleaning up the extracted frames. My harvest consisted of 8 pints and enough wax to make maybe 2 votive candles.
It has been a good 16 months. When I take my grandson for a walk and see a golden bee (which happens with increasingly more frequency) I feel pretty good that at least one of my swarms is doing well.
Finally this summer I saw a bee I had never seen before. Research has led me to conclude it is a leaf cutter bee. I take this as a sign that, at least in my micro-ecosystem, things may be improving. I hope to send off many more swarms and get a bit more honey before the local authorities catch me and slap me in leg irons. The Obamas can keep bees but not me?
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