Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'd live in a lavender field

Can you smell it?  Provence lavender field.
My copy of Beekeeping for Dummies arrived some time ago and I have been reading.  I also bought The Healing Powers of Honey, but have yet to open that one.  I thought I would get more reading in, but I have been busy with a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser.  I also find that I am not such a good photographer.  It is hard to document the little changes toward being a beekeeper with a camera.
I have been working out in the yard on a space to put the hive.  So . . .where do bees like their hives.  If I were a bee, I'd want to be on top of a fine department store, like Fortnum and Mason.  I could pop downstairs and buzz around the gift basket goodies.  Or, a lavender field in Provence.  Maybe around the wildflowers of Albion Basin at Alta, Utah. 

Albion Basin, Alta, Utah  The photo of me is in about this same spot.
What about one of those fields of sunflowers that go on and on and on.  Hmmm?  How about a pineapple field in Hawaii? or Napa Valley grapes?  I'd like to live in the kitchen garden of  Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Yountville.  I could buzz down the road and lick pastry off the tables at Bouchon and maybe find some olive trees. 
Cape Cod maybe?  Beach roses and bayberry honey.  and blue hydrangreas
French Laundry's kitchen gardens.  Yountville, CA
The things I had to consider according to Dummies chapter 3:
The hive should be in a place with dappled sunlight, yet not under a tree that would drip.   What else gives "dappled sunlight" except trees that drip?  Full sun is bad.
It bakes bees in the summer.  Dark shade is bad, damp bees and we all know that damp bees are listless bees.  (OK, I didn't know that.  Are you listless when you are damp?  I think that would make me get up and move somewhere else, or flap my wings a bit.)
The hive needs good ventilation.  The bottom of the hive is actually open somewhat to allow air flow.  it says that the peak of a hill is not a good place.  I don't think my spot is a the top of a hill.  Just a flat above a little rise. There is  difference between ventilation and being windswept.
They will need a windbreak at the back side of the hive.  Winds and cold stress the colony. This is going to be problematic.  I found a piece of corrugated clear plastic under the garage that may work for this.  I had meant to use it to close up the chicken coop in winter, but found plastic sheeting works just fine.  I could try growing some more bushes down there?  I could also just move the hives to a more friendly spot for the winter.  Martha does.  Rule for moving hives, however, is:  they can be moved no more than 3 feet OR more than three miles.    3 feet and the girls can find the front door, no problem.  Or move them 3 miles and they won't just fly back to the old spot and find it empty.
The hive should be easily accessible.  Dummies says, "You don't want to be hauling hundreds of pounds of honey up a hill on a hot August day."  Well, guess what I will be doing?  I live on a hill.  My front yard is flat, but not the place to put bees.  (See the section on being neighbor friendly in the book.)  My only option is at the bottom of the hill.  And it is hard just to walk up.  Hmmm maybe we need a Gator?  Even our riding mower is currently out of service.  But it has a little trailor and that should help with the hauling, so gotta fix the mower.  We might need to mow anyways.
Firm, dry ground.  Easy.  The hive should have its entrance face south-east to get the morning sun in there and get those bees up and moving as early as possible. Easy.  Level.  Easy. Well, just a little tip so any water can run out.  Mulch around.  Easy.  Don't want anything to grow up around the entrance and block air traffic.  Clear the runways.
If a hive is located in a place where there is a lot of foot traffic, the book suggests putting some kind of obstable in front of the entrance so the bees have to fly up and over.  This way they will not be flying into people's faces.
Water.  Bees need water.  They need water to drink, to thin the honey, to cool the hive, (they bring back water and put it in the cells and then fan the cells to cool the hive, cool.  Where I grew up we call that a "swamp cooler."  Lucky for my bees, they will live 50 feet from the swamp--or pond we sometimes call it.  I hope this will keep them from drinking on the chickens' waterers, the neighbors' pools, the dogs' dish, or any other surface not meant to be covered with thirsty bees.  Nothing is said about water in the winter?  What to do then?  The pond freezes over, as do water buckets ?  A big question on that one.  It is hard enough to get water in the chicken coop for the winter and keep it unfrozen.  I don't think I could make it up and down that hill in the snow all winter to water bees.   Another reason to move the hive in the winter?
Can't put the hive where it will block our winter sledding. 
The bottom of the yard where this will be is kind of dry and needs some new plantings so I will be looking at what kinds of ground covers could go in for the bees.

The white is the pond, with a skiff of snow on it.  All gone now.
My hive will go just to the left of the red maple trunk at right.

I have some extra picket fences that I intend to build a small fence--a bee yard, if you will--around the hive.  It won't stop curious racoons, but maybe the skunks, and certainly a couple of very small boys.  I may need to electrify it for bears.

Bears--don't even want to think about that one.   I did have a bear about a year ago break down a lilac branch to take a look in my bird feeder out front by the front room window.  Then he meandered up the hill through the horse pastures.  He was seen several times around the school pond.  Word around the neighborhood was that he was BIG!  I have seen big cords that lash all the supers and hive bodies together so if they do fall, everything won't just fall apart.  Not attractive.  What else could be done?  How about some window latch hardware on the boxes to hold them together?  Having the hive tip over is one thing, but having it tip over and all the boxes coming apart, with a lot of angry bees saying, "what just happened here?" could be bad. 

This guy has been working on this hive.  See the strapping holding it all together?

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