Posts Tagged ‘urban beekeeping’

Ah, Spring…Clover growing underfoot, blissful 82 degree days with only mild humidity, the smell of orange blossoms lingering in the air, and bee stings. Then the mad rush for Benadryl and baking soda or toothpaste in a vain attempt to minimize swelling.

Every time I get stung, there are varying degrees of annoyance. I can usually tell within minutes if I’m going to swell or not. If the sting is intense, then I will puff up like an inflated latex glove, but if the sting is just annoying, the discomfort will wear off in less than an hour. My mentor and friend, JP the Beeman, is an excellent beekeeper, but he is, quite possibly, a bad influence for me. He’s been working with bees for years and rarely wears a suit and veil unless the bees prove to be angry. He doesn’t wear protective gear unless, “I get stung ten times.”

JP has a youtube channel with more than 100 videos, many of the swarms he’s caught in the last few seasons. Here’s my favorite, where he catches a swarm that landed on an SUV in a parking lot. He scoops through the bees with his bare hands searching for the queen, and even gets underneath the vehicle with a flashlight in his mouth, still scooping handfuls of bees and dropping them into the super with his bare hands!


(I’m not sure what is going on with wordpress here, but the video isn’t coming up on my blog, just the link, which isn’t as cool, but please visit it anyway)!

Here’s another video he took, this one in my backyard in October.


Although he doesn’t say anything, I think JP’s laughing at me when I even bother to put on gloves to work the bees in his presence. Actually in the video above, toward the end of our bee session where we combined a weak hive with a strong hive, JP edited out the last part of the video where I’m wearing the suit. I put it on because I got stung twice, but in all fairness it does make me look like I’m about to go clean up an oil spill or something.

So, bolstered by a few successful days without the encumbrance of the hot, visibility-restricting bee suit, I thought I could just be a regular bee wooer. You know, just me and the ladies, chatting about springtime, drones, and work. But of course, that vision fell flat again, as a bee got stuck in my hair and stung me on the head yet again. So, next time, I’ll start out wearing a hat, and then go from there.

But the good news is that this Spring, all the hives look healthy and poised for a good season of honey production. In the afternoon, when the light hits the hives, I can smell the warm wax, the honey and pollen as the bees fan their wings to cool the hive boxes. I’m lucky that the bees decided that they can live with my inexperienced pokings around in their business and I get some honey in return. Spring’s sweet bounty is definitely worth a few stings here and there.


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Dismantled beehive

Dismantled beehive

Sweat is rolling off my eyelids and there is nothing I can do about it. My hands are encased in rubber-lined gloves, there’s a hat and net covering my head and face, and my body is wrapped in its own personal sauna – a beekeeping suit. I may have actually sweat through two layers of clothes. Yes, it’s good to be back in New Orleans.

The weather isn’t even that hot right now (mid to high 80s), but nonetheless, in this humidity beekeeping is a sweaty affair. And there is a lot of bee work to do. Sadly, we lost one of the hives over the summer – they may have swarmed out and then moths took over. The moths lay eggs that turn into messy larvae that gorges on wax and honey, and nearly ruins anything the bees may have left behind. The process of taking apart a hive is hot and tedious and a little bit sad – like gutting a devastated house, it brings back memories of the life that once hummed inside, full of its own personal dramas.

Early last Spring, this hive lost its queen. A hive without a queen is purposeless. The angry bees have nothing to live for, so they sting anyone who comes near, almost without reason. I had been told that a queenless hive even sounds different: they buzz with a fury, a dull roar, and I paid attention to see if I could hear it for myself. And I did. Not only did I hear the angry roar of the bees, but I also felt nervous as they buzzed angrily near my face even though it was protected behind the veil of the beekeeping suit.

Once Albert, the baron of the bees, and Jeff, the bee expert, found a new queen and planted her in the angry hive, there was a noticeable change within a day. The bees had purpose again and hummed the contented hum of satisfied workers as they flew off to forage for the new queen. Through the next few months, the bees produced honey with abundance, enough for us to harvest once in May and then almost a gallon in June. Sometimes, when I could tell the bees were in a peaceable mood, I put my head right up to the side of the bee boxes to listen to the hum of 40,000 lives inside. It sounds like the rushing sound of the ocean you hear when you cup a shell to your ear, or the steady drumming of rain on a tin roof – if there are 40,000 bees inside, then there are 160,000 little feet pitter-pattering up and down the wooden frames, humming as they work.

Now the dismantled hive is totally silent.

Bees stealing honey back

Bees stealing honey back

There are still two more hives, working away, trying to stock up for the coming months, and each hive is full of its own stories, dramas and miracles. Just the other day, when I was processing honey in the yard on a cookie sheet, some bees approached, trying to steal back the honey I had just taken. One landed right on a sticky puddle and immediately began to get pulled under like quicksand, and they more she struggled, the faster she went. I grabbed a piece of mulch and used it as a lifeline for the bee to cling to. Once the bee latched on, I set the little stick with the honey-drenched bee on it right at the entrance to the hive. I just guessed which hive to take her back to – it could have been the wrong one and the guard bees would have killed her as an intruder. The sentry bees immediately came to inspect this honeyed worker, and after a few probes with long tongues, they decided to take her in, and immediately set to work, cleaning the honey off. The honeyed bee at first struggled against all their bathing efforts, but when I came back a few minutes later, she was surrounded by at least six busily cleaning bees, and she lifted each wing individually to let her helpers get the honey underneath. Then she tested both wings together and flew straight back into the hive, a regular worker again, just as she wanted to be. Innumerable miracles happen in a bee hive everyday.


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