This week I’m returning to the subject of beekeeping, because the last one didn’t go as I had planned. If you watched the videos for that article, it turned out that one of my hives had gotten extremely aggressive, and I’m sure it turned a lot of people off to beekeeping. In this video I am rewinding to the beginning, where most people start, by “installing” package bees into a brood box. As you can see, I am bare armed in the video, and up until I discovered that one of my hives had become aggressive, I had worked my bees exclusively with bare arms. And that includes removing frames and extracting honey.
For the most part my bees have been every well behaved. Italian bees are known for good temperament and strong honey production, but there is always the danger that your bees will swarm, and that the workers will raise a new queen without your knowledge, one that was fertilized by a feral drone. That drone can bring with it some very aggressive genetic traits, and it may turn your hive into what is called Africanized.
Africanized bees, otherwise known as “Killer Bees” came to this side of the Atlantic in the 50s through Brazil, and they have been making their way North since then. According to the Wikipedia page ,African bees will even leave their own hive to forage other hives, killing the Italian queens, but who knows. The “killer” nomenclature is a dramatic falsehood. There are only a few instances of people being killed by honey bees who weren’t allergic to begin with. As you saw in my video though, they can be very aggressive.
I actually killed that hive by sneaking out in the middle of the night, wrapping the hive in mosquito netting, then throwing the whole thing in a pond. Those bees only wanted to sting, and produced little if any honey at all. I could technically have opened the hive, killed the queen, then installed a new Italian queen, similar to the way you see me do it in this video, but I was concerned that there were a lot of drones that already could spread the bad genes. The workers could also have just killed the new queen and raised another of their own to take her place. So after getting stung myself through my suit about a dozen times, and having one of my dogs put in the hospital, I elected to just kill them. It was awful, but those little bastards didn’t leave me any choice.
I wanted to get this video out this week because you can still buy package bees for this year if you look around. I’m not going to bother linking to the same stuff I linked in the last article because you can click from that article. There are also links to some pretty good buys on Ebay, and that foam feeder.
Installing and Feeding Bees
It’s mind blowing when you get your first package of bees literally in the mail. Don’t be surprised if you are the first in your town to ever have done so, and I have to say, in Miami, where Lambos are more common that F150s, my Postmaster was not pleased. Eh, it’s his job. I’ve gotten Turkey poults through the mail too, **one hundred** of them, and I raised all but a few to full grown eating size.
The video shows you just how simple it is to install package bees. Make sure that you get some kind of feeder, even if it is just a bottle feeder at first. Remember, the bees don’t know their way around your neighborhood, and when you first put them in, they only have one job, to build comb so queenie can start laying. They won’t be able to find enough plant nectar to do this quickly enough, so you really have to feed them sugar syrup. Sugar is cheap, like 50 cents a pound, so don’t skimp. I like the hivetop feeder because hundreds of bees can gather syrup at a time instead of just a few like with a bottle feeder. This particular feeder is the best of them, because you never get any drowned bees.
The Legalities of Beekeeping
One of the commenters last time mentioned that I didn’t address the myriad local ordinances against beekeeping. Here in Florida we passed a law banning local ordinances, so nobody is allowed to interfere with your right to keep bees. Don’t take it for granted that you can get away with bees in your location, because you think nobody will know that the hive is there. At first that works, but there are times when **all of the bees** it seems are out of the hive and flying around. Plus, when you open the hive to check on it, a lot of bees get, in the air. They aren’t necessarily out to sting, but you’ll get people calling the authorities on you. Most people are afraid of bees, and the reality is, in an urban environment bees can get very difficult. Make sure that you have fences of some kind around your hive so that the bees will be flying up and over people on the street, or just put the hive on your roof if you have a flat roof available. This will solve 90% of your human problems.
But beware that next spring, if you don’t monitor and split your hive, there is a pretty good chance that it will swarm. A swarm isn’t a violent thing. The hive just gets overcrowded and the queen decide to find new digs, taking half the bees with her. When the hive swarms, they generally land and gather, or “beard,” on a tree limb or something, then they fly off to their pre-selected new home. This new home can be the eaves of your neighbors house, a nearby shed, a water meter casing (very common in South Florida), or any number of places where the bees will not be welcome.
The Produce Stuff Economy
Beekeeping is a big responsibility, but not an insurmountable one. I said in the video that America is moving from a “sell stuff to each other” economy to a “produce something” economy, but I didn’t mean that this is happening now. At some point, most likely soon, the worldwide pact to cover up the news of our dying planet is going to hit the mainstream, and the US will be all alone. If you want to eat, you are going to have to know how to produce something of value. Very few of us can walk away from life to farm, or become beekeepers, and we’d probably fair at it anyway if we tried to live off of the fruits of our labor. But I think it helps to learn some useful skills now, while the internet is still on and the ATM card still works. There will be a rough patch when this whole mess uncaps, but after that, after the world faces some very difficult truths, we will go forward. I will be able to put some useful skills on my FEMA camp forms, like vegetable farming, beekeeping, sewing, Ham radio, milking a cow, raising turkeys, canning, rain collection, solar, electronics, in addition to this useless keyboard nonsense. Can you?
(PS: To those of you who know that this week is actually Passover, no, installing bees is not the craziest thing I’ve ever done on what we call “erev Pesach,” or the day before the holiday starts. I actually bought an actively milking dairy cow at a farm auction on erev Pesach in 2002, and took delivery of her right after the holiday ended over a week later. I still have my milker and I’m trying to find a local cow to shoot some video for this column in the near future. You really can do all of this stuff if you just take the time to try.)