To those of you at yesterday's Backyard Bootcamp to whom I promised a beer bottling post today, sorry to make you wait. Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew.
But I have a perfectly good excuse... Bees!
I've been contemplating keeping bees for a couple years, and thanks to whatever special blend of tipple and other intoxicants I was enjoying one cold evening this winter, I had decided that this was the season to start and placed an order for three packages.
And then, suddenly, they're here, buzzing anxiously in their little cages, waiting for me to give them homes. Oh boy.
Over the past few weeks I'd been re-reading up, watching clips, and generally prepping myself, but had for various reasons put off probably the most important part: getting and prepping my supplies. I put a hold on some woodenware (gorgeous stuff made in NJ by Evans) and tools at our farm store Hayseed's, and Meg saved my life by assembling frames for me... and also letting me borrow her car to schlep everything around Brooklyn. I love you, Meg.
So last night, I picked up my three packages, plus one unclaimed straggler for the Brooklyn Grange Apiary (which we're currently campaigning for on Kickstarter - please please please donate here!) I sprayed them down with so much syrup I thought they'd harden into one big lollipop, set them in my room on a burlap sack, crossed my fingers, and went to bed. Boy and Girl were intrigued by the buzzing and tried just about everything to break into my room for a flying-insect snack, but luckily failed.
This morning, I installed foundation* on half of my frames and prepped and waxed strips on the others.
I made enough sugar syrup** (1:1 water to sugar) to fill a bathtub, filled three quart-sized mason jars with it and perforated the lids for feeders. I lollipopped the bees one more time, got everything in the car, and then finally set course for their new home: a rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard near where Brooklyn Grange, the farm I manage, will have its second location this May.
The accomplished and legendary Tim O'Neil joined me to supervise the installation... on not just any Sunday, but Easter Sunday. I love you, Tim.
One by one, I put my new friends in their hives. The queens looked healthy and strong, not to mention beautiful (even Tim remarked), but there were a few dead attendants in each cage. Never to worry: Tim helped introduce new attendants. Once her majesties have proven themselves, I'll get to naming. I'm thinking Chaka, Madonna, Beyoncé...
In all, everything went off without a hitch. Well, I was stung once, but even that little worker was spared since she didn't break it off in my skin.
Despite all of the crazy last-minute scrambling during perhaps one of the already craziest weeks at the farm, I would do it all over again a thousand times. For those of you who have yet to keep bees, I feel like the experience of hiving is hard to put accurately in words. But these I think point in the right direction: bewildering, cosmic, thrilling, zen.
I can't believe they're home.
*I plan to follow a Backwards approach to my hives, using no chemical treatments, supplemental feeding, or foundation (pre-printed wax comb guides), but after discussing with different wise and experienced urban beekeepers, I decided to give them a boost for my first season by doing half foundation and half naturally-drawn comb. Moving forward I plan to let my girls draw their own and save back and reuse comb.
**According to some beekeeping styles, too much sugar syrup throughout the season can lead to weaker, pampered bees; letting them forage is best. Providing some syrup for after a hive installation to get a good start, however, has been thumbs-upped by many backwards beekeepers I've spoken to, so I gave it a go.