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No Rings, No Watches.

Once of the first rules of bare-handed beekeeping is no rings, no watches. If a bee is going to sting your hand, you can bet they’ll hit you right next to your ring or watch. Initially this won’t be any more uncomfortable than being stung anywhere else-but as you swell, it can become very challenging to remove them. It is also the case that bees can smell the venom sacs of other bees and often excite each other to sting-a quick, clean removal of the stinger and pollen sac can help keep the colony calm and keep you from getting stung again. All of this is much easier if we just take a moment to put these items into our pockets.

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A Queen’s Cage.

The traditional way to secure a new colony of bees in the States is via a three-pound package-more about that later-but inside that bundle of honey bees is a queen bee. Not their queen-but a queen. And to ensure her safe journey with the bees from California to Seattle, she was placed inside a small cage, with a few attendants. This cage ensures both her safety and that she’ll stick around long enough for the colony to accept her as their new queen. When you hive a new package of bees, a cork plug in this little cage is replaced with a soft marshmallow. Over the following few days the colony will eat through marshmallow releasing their queen.

We have a great story about that as well…

 

 

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Feeding the Family.

Bees are, by their very nature, excellent foragers-they will fly up to seven miles in search of pollen and nectar to feed their sisters and brood. And here in the NW they have a pretty good chance of finding food if they fly far enough. There are, however, times when they can use a little help.

The farther the girls fly, the more energy they need to get there and back. At a certain point they move beyond diminishing returns, and start into the red. Some studies have suggested that at continuous of trips about 5 miles (10 miles round trip) the hive weight will start to decrease. Two miles is about the sweet spot for enough acreage of forage without wasting energy.

It is both in the early weeks of the hive’s development as well as times of little forage (no nectar flow and little pollen) that beekeepers supplement their bees’ diet with syrup. We use good a old-fashioned, home-cooked recipe of cane sugar, water and a little Pro Health added to give the bees some extra vitamins and minerals. Yum.

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Secure Those Hives.

While we’re known for our rain and drizzle in Seattle, we also get wind. And the last thing you want on a windy evening is a toppled hive. I use NRS river straps all over the place (once fixed my VW bus with a pair, so why not use them to strap the hives down as well).

Nice and secure.

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Installing Our Queen.

Quickly and carefully the cork plug in the end of the queen cage must be replaced with a soft marshmallow. Over the new few days the workers will care for the queen, feeding her, adjusting to the smell of her pheromones, all the while slowly chewing through the marshmallow to release her. This is their chance to bond, while safely confining the queen to the hive. If she were to leave, they would follow. But let us not have any of that.

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A Quick Spritz.

Prior to installing the package of bees, some like to lightly spray the cage with sugar water. The water wets the bees enough to limit flight, and make them clump up a little more when you shake then into the hive. The added sugar gives them a sweet distraction during all the commotion.

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No Pit Stops.

On a bee’s journey from California to the Pacific NW there are no pit stops and no potty breaks. Bees like to keep a very clean hive, so they’ll hold it for days on their journey north. So it’s no wonder that they really have to go when they are finally let out in their new home. This gal decided to land on my arm for her morning constitutional.

It was a long drive, I’ll forgive her.

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Rooftop Construction.

Quiet and clean were two requirements of building and installing our rooftop apiary. A sunny day, the right tools and well thought-out plans made for quick work too.

Apiary With a View

What does the perfect hive location look like? We don’t know-but here is our lot.

A fine 6th story rooftop, two flights of stairs above our design studio here in in Pioneer Square. With 180-degree south-facing exposure we’ll get full sun from morning until it sets over Elliott Bay. In the heart of this urban environment we hope to introduce three bee hives-to pollinate local rooftop gardens, create honey we can share with friends and neighbors, and hopefully inspire conversation about what it means to create and nurture healthy, engaged communities.

What more could our bee hope for?

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