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All hail Queen Esmeralda

November 23, 2010

Our newest pets arrived last week. We have been eagerly awaiting their arrival since early this year. Yes my friends, if you haven’t already worked it out from the photo, we are now bee keepers! It took a while for us to settle on a name for our Queen. We kept threatening to call it Queen Tara or Queen Andrea (female version of Andrew) – the two bossiest people in this house. Well, since the queen bee is in fact a slave to her colony, Queen Andrea was looking like the most appropriate name for her. But once we set eyes on her last week, it was clear she needed a regal, Victorian sort of name. Ok, enough nonsense from me.

The exciting news – in just a month or two we should be able to extract our first lot of honey. Perhaps 30kg of it!! The bees are so interesting – I keep going outside just to have a look at them. I wish I had a perspex box that I could see through, or perhaps “bee-cam”. I would love to see them working away in there. Yesterday I went to check to see if they were collecting pollen. It looked as though they were just flying around in random sort of circles…until I got closer. Once I stuck my face really quite close (without veil and protective gear – are you impressed?!), I noticed that as some bees landed and went inside, others flew out on their journey to find pollen. They did it so fast that it looked like the same bees flying around in circles. Have you ever seen how a bee carries pollen? It is the cutest thing ever. A big pouch of it on its legs. Have a look at this picture from hilifemedia.com. I will have to practise my photography skills and try to capture a photo like this one.

Sometimes they have so much pollen on them they crash-land and stagger somewhat under the weight. Or perhaps that is because they have drunk too much nectar?! 🙂 I can’t wait to open up the box again and see how many more babies they have made, and how the honey production is going. I have to get more boxes to put on top apparently – I thought one would be enough, but it seems they will outgrow this box in a matter of weeks. Being summer this is the peak of production time, both for more bees and for honey.

The day we picked them up from my friend Russell (who is training me in the way of bees), the kids came dressed in slightly inappropriate clothes. I did encourage them to wear thicker clothes, with sleeves that came all the way down to their wrists, etc, but they were not too keen to listen. Oh well, I thought, they will soon find out. When we in the middle of moving the bees around, Tara let out a bit of a panicked “I have a lot of bees on me”. She had five or six sitting on the front of her rather tight tshirt. I said “don’t panic, just brush them off if you have to”. She then decided that she would not panic and started stroking one of the bees and singing to it.  Very cute until she managed to squeeze another bee who promptly stung her. She screamed, but again had to quickly calm herself down or risk getting lots of bees agitated. Sam got stung on his elbow minutes later, yes, where his sleeve rode up on his arm. We could not stop the bee moving process so the kids had to deal with it themselves, and they did remarkably well. The tears stopped after a few minutes, perhaps she did not want to look too much like a baby in front of Russell.  The next day Tara very proudly took her sting and a documentary video about bees to school for news.

We had lots of dire warnings from friends and neighbours when we mentioned our plans to keep bees. We were told to expect hundreds of bees flying around, lots of stings, being chased by bees, and worse. Mind you, all these warnings came from people who didn’t keep bees themselves. People who kept bees were pretty relaxed about it. They told me to expect to get stung a few times, but the stings are not too bad (confirmed by my kids – “hurts heaps to start off but is fine soon after”).

Australia is the only country in the world that does not have the varroa mite which is demolishing bee colonies everywhere. It is just a matter of time before we get it too. Anything we can do to keep healthy bees is sure to help. I read somewhere that if there were no bees it would take four years for the world to starve – we are so dependent on them. So far we haven’t had any problems with the bees. They have worked out their flight path, which is slightly different to what I had anticipated, but still fairly out of the main traffic areas for us and our neighbours. They go about their own business quite happily and are not interested in chasing us or stinging us if we get too close.  I am sure they will get more agitated when we go to remove their honey but we will be prepared for that. They leave the dog alone and she seems to just ignore them too. I think they are just too busy to bother with us. I want to tell them to slow down…smell the flowers…oh yeah, that is what they are doing! I am sure my garden is going to love having them here. And the national park that is so close to our house is going to be a great source of food for them as well. I have put a bowl of water near their hive so they hopefully drink from there rather than one neighbours pool or the other neighbours little stream. Stay tuned for more bee escapades (or lack thereof)!

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2010 10:23 AM

    How absolutely wonderful to have bees – I’d never even thought of keeping them – can’t wait to hear more about them and how they get on.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 1, 2010 9:25 AM

      I am really loving having the bees Jo. It is quite thrilling to see them dart out of the hive at full speed and return staggering slightly under the weight of the pollen. I am hoping for a break in the rain this weekend so I can have a little look in the hive and see how my lovelies are coming along. Might be able to take some more ‘inside’ photos if I do…

  2. November 24, 2010 1:41 PM

    Cool…you’re far braver than me! Look forward to hearing more! 🙂

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 1, 2010 9:24 AM

      Bravery or ignorance…the jury is still out on that one!

  3. November 25, 2010 6:58 AM

    How exciting. I always think that bees are fascinating little creatures, from a distance though as I’m allergic. Last time I was stung on my foot and had to go about on crutches for 3 weeks! I told everyone it was a skiing accident.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 1, 2010 9:23 AM

      Ouch, three weeks?!! Glad I didn’t hear that story before I got started. The good thing about my kids getting stung is that I now know that they are not allergic! Andrew has been stung before and lived to tell the tale, so presumably he is ok too. Yet to find out if I am allergic….fingers crossed that I am not.

  4. November 25, 2010 6:48 PM

    That is very exciting! I’ve been reading up on bees and all their loveliness. Much to read up on.
    Were they expensive to start up? I would imagine once you have them, you have them and there is no other ongoing costs? Just your own delicious honey.
    That photo is amazing too.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 1, 2010 9:22 AM

      I am really exciting about having the bees. I noticed on the ads for the new series of Gourmet Farmer that Matthew Evans has bees as well!! I know you are a fan of that show too…. I will be examining his bee hives carefully this Thursday!
      Yes, it is a surprisingly expensive hobby. I think I spent about $500 on my first visit to the bee shop. I did get an extra hood and extra gloves so my kids could help/watch and my husband could do the heavy lifting when required. So you could spend about $100 or so less if you didn’t get spares. Mind you, I didn’t get the $150-$200 full bee suit either, just the $45 hood. I had to go back to the shop again last week to get two more boxes and stuff to make up frames. Spent $200 on that visit. Again, you could do it slightly cheaper if you didn’t buy a wiring board ($45) and extras to make up your own frames. Now that I have all that stuff though I should be fine for a long time. If I wanted to expand to more hives or more boxes it would only cost me $20-$50 as I have all the other ‘stuff’ that comes in fairly large quantities. You would need to buy a Queen (to get a specially bred one) for about $20. And hopefully you can be given a few bees to get started, or if need be you could buy them as well. I think they would be pretty inexpensive. After that the only other expense I think would be at the time of extracting honey. If you ‘extract’ honeycomb then you won’t need anything much in the way of equipment, just an uncapping tool or something. If you want to extract honey you would need to buy, hire or borrow an extractor. I know they cost $500++ to buy but luckily my friend Russell who got me started with the bees has a very fancy one that he is willing to lend to me (phew!). Hope that is not too much information!

      • December 1, 2010 11:49 AM

        Definitely not too much information. I’ll be really interested to see how you go when you get your first lot of honey.
        …and yes, Matthew Evans is still ‘the man’. I think Thursday is just the repeats of the first series again though.

  5. Sarah - For the Love of Food permalink
    December 4, 2010 10:20 PM

    It’s an arcane and deeply interesting world the bees! I don’t know a great deal but my brother has/had bees (he’s had them a couple of times) and what I do know is there is an awful lot you can get to know. I think it could take over your life!

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 9, 2010 10:13 PM

      Ah I am just realising how little I know. Had a rather anxious encounter with them today. I am really loving having the bees. I can imagine that it could easily get very addictive and all-consuming.

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  1. bees and honey « Cityhippyfarmgirl

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