For the past few months, I've been preparing to get a beehive. I got the idea suddenly when I was on a train to Toronto: why don't I start a beehive at the cottage? I had already heard a lot about colony collapse disorder, and the mystery of why bees were dying off. On my self sufficiency kick this summer, I thought that getting some honey bees would be a good way to help the population, and make me a little honey on the side. Plus, I think anyone who has read even a little bit about honey bees finds them facinating, with their social structure and dancing.
I had a hard time figuring out how to get started, but I read a few books about beekeeping for absolute beginners and tried to talk to a lot of people about it. Turns out, I had two friends and a coworker who also had bees. I realized that instead of starting one at the cottage, where I would be completely isolated and not have anyone to ask for help, I could join the McGill Community Apiary. There are communal supplies (like the mesh hats, smoker, and tools), and it's great to have a community of people to answer my questions (like..."uhh...so what do I do with these bees when I get them?").
My first step was to order the pieces of the hive. I knew I needed a series of boxes and other various wooden things, but it was Branislav, who founded the McGill Apiary a few years ago, who gave me a list of the essential parts that I needed for a Langstroth hive (the most common type). About a few weeks ago, my materials arrived from Propolis-Etc, a beekeeping supplies company in Quebec. You can buy parts of the hive already assembled and painted, but I chose to save some money by D.I.mYself. My hive costs about $170 (taxes included) for the bottom board, two medium supers (where the bees live and make honey), a feeder for the fall/spring, 20 plastic frames for the bees to make combs over (10 per super), an inner cover, an entrance reducer, and an outer cover.
Hive all assembled and painted.
I'm not very handy, so I enlisted the help of a new friend to help put it together and paint. From what I've read, it's not a huge amount of work to maintain a beehive, but they do need to be checked on every 2 weeks or so, and preparations need to be made in the fall and spring. Therefore, it's helpful to have 2 people share the work of a hive and split the honey at the end (especially when that friend lives within 5 minutes from the hive, instead of 45 minutes like myself).
Next part: the bees! I had never even been near a beehive in real life until the day I put mine together. I started second guessing myeslf when I showed up the apiary and realized that I was 2 feet away from someone else's buzzing, very active hive with hundreds of scary bees. Would my hammering and talking anger them, forcing them to turn on me in a massive swarm? Nope. I could sit off to the side of a hive and watch them go in and out without them really caring. They do sting, but it seems like it's most likely when you're standing in their flight path...so stay away from the front entrance!
Once I realized that the bees didn't really care that I was there, I felt more comfortable about what I had just gotten myself into. Over the weekend, Branislav took 4 frames of someone else's hive and put them in my own. The workers were happy to stay in their shiney new hive for a few days without a queen. Then, a queen and a few drones in a little plastic cage were put into my new hive. There is a bunch of sugar plugging the exit of the cage, so within a few days, they eat their way out of the container. By that time, the workers have accepted their new queen. Within a few days, you have to check to make sure the queen is still there (she's marked with a little white dot, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to distinguish a slightly larger bee from hundreds of others).
I checked on my hive on Monday, and am pleased to report that it seems to be going well! I didn't realize that I had to paint the plastic frames with wax because usually the bees won't start putting eggs or honey there without that foundation. So my project today is to melt some leftover beeswax from the apiary and paint it onto my plastic frames.
I had kind of gotten into beekeeping because it sounded interesting and I thought it would be good to help out the overall honey bee population. I did not expect the feeling of wonder and love when I sat next to my complete beehive and watched the worker bees dance their heart out at the entrance of the hive.
And if you don't think bees are cool yet, watch this video:
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.