When The Daily Green and Bee Culture magazine asked urban beekeepers to send photos showing amazing feats of urban beekeeping, we asked for a short description to go with each photo. Some people just could not stick to a short description. Below are two of the more interesting stories urban beekeepers shared.
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. Fall is a great time to get started, so you're ready for bee season in spring.
My dad began keeping bees several years ago after purchasing a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia. At first I thought he was nuts. For the life of me I could not understand why he would want to keep bees. My only real visual of the situation was getting stung a lot. Not a great hobby as far as I could tell. He started off with one 10-frame box and soon added another which all had to be enclosed behind a solar powered electric fence in order to keep the local wildlife at bay. The area where the hives were kept began to resemble a small penal institution. On brief trips to the farm I would feign interest in the "girls" for the sake of my dad, whom I love and respect dearly. I did not understand the interest he had in this hobby, but it was his hobby and he seemed to love what he was doing. My dad dutifully served his country for over 30 years and has too numerous awards and citations to list in a such a short space. To say the least, if he wanted to take up crossdressing as a hobby I would support him 100%. He is truly a good man.
Now, I am allergic to bees, so I most often kept my distance from the hives as I have little desire to be stabbing my leg with an epi pen, adding insult to injury as it were. I took a drive out to the farm one day with dad in order to split some firewood for the upcoming winter. He had indicated that he would need to feed the bees while there and inquired as to whether I would like to use one of his protective suits and help. Not wanting to offend, I faked enthusiasm and readied my epi pen. I was not prepared for what I was about to witness.
We went to the barn to retrieve dad's hive tools and to don our suits. As dad was helping me to get outfitted he explained what he was going to do, what to expect from the "girls", and told me what to do and not to do. We made the short trip from the barn to the "penal colony" and opened the first hive. At first I was a little uncomfortable. Being surrounded by thousands of angry bees was most disturbing. But as I began to realize that I was relatively safe from the business end of the bees I began to shed some of that discomfort and really started to listen and look at what an incredible feat of nature that they were. To my surprised disappointment, we closed up the hives after about 45 minutes of feeding and examining. My head was spinning from the experience and I was HOOKED!
My dad and I talked bees for the rest of the day and for the whole 1.5 hour trip home. When I did arrive home that evening I could not stop telling my wife of the adventure with dad and the incredible world of the honey bee. I ventured to the library the next day and started to read everything I could get my hands on related to beekeeping. After that day my dad and my conversations would almost always end up about bees.
What soon followed is an adventure that I hope never ends. That winter my dad surprised my wife and I with an eight-frame starter kit and all the tools we would need. We painted the boxes and I set out to build an enclosure for the hives in order to protect them from curious hounds from venturing too close. Our yard gets full sun all day so I have faced the hive opening to the southeast and constructed a trellis of morning glories that protects them from the mid day heat. It all turned out just as I had hoped except that I was still very apprehensive of keeping bees in urban Fairfax County, Virginia, which is a close suburb of Washington DC. I was afraid of what my neighbors would think and envisioned complaints of bees stinging everyone in our subdivision. Thankfully most of our closest neighbors are gardeners and welcomed the honey bees with enthusiasm. To this date no one has been stung (except me, like all the time) and our conversations often start with the question, "How are the girls doing?" Their caring and encouragement has been a great inspiration to me.
In our rookie season we have made a few mistakes -- a swarm and an all-to-curious skunk (which has now sprayed our bloodhound twice) ... but we are learning. Thankfully, not at the cost of the bees who seem to be doing just fine as they are headed into their first winter here. Even my Brooklyn-bred wife, Patricia, has fallen in love with them. Her first stop after arriving home from work is usually out to see the bees.
My wife and I have already begun planning for another hive next year. After some research with my dad we have decided to try some "Kenyan Top Bar Hives" which we have began to construct ourselves. I am expanding my bee friendly gardens also. We installed a sunflower garden as well as a 1,500-square foot vegetable garden this past spring. All of which turned out very well. Can't wait for the girls to see what is in store for them next year!
- John Petro IV
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 honey bee. 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?
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.