Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Our first critters

We moved to our farm in early January seven years ago. We were eagerly looking forward to our first critters. I envisioned horses, cows, goats, sheep...anything soft, cuddly and furry.

By the time the middle of February rolled around, we were beginning to catch our breath from unpacking and trying to learn our way around the town about 20 miles away. We didn't know anyone when we moved here so we were on our own.

I happened to notice an ad in the local paper for a beginning beekeeper class. It was free! We knew that eventually we wanted to be able to produce our own honey - and the price was right.

We attended the meetings, met some very nice people and learned a lot. Most of the people in this meeting were older than us and perhaps surprised to see us arrive with children in tow and babe in arms but they made us feel very welcome.

The surprise came at the end of the classes - it was time to order bees. Yikes! We didn't expect to make that commitment quite so soon. We ordered 2 boxes of bees. (Yes, they really do come in boxes).

We had about a month to prepare for the arrival or our new critters. Never in my life did I think that bees would be the first critter on our farm. I had learned enough in the classes to loose my fear of bees. They are fascinating creatures and make a great homeschool project. Everything about them points to the existence of God. Their design, the society of their hives, their industriousness - it is all amazingly reflective of the Father.

We ordered 2 hives and 3 head-to-toe bee suits (okay, I didn't loose all of my fear!) two for adults and one for kids. We learned that you must build the hives yourself - so we began! Many nights were spent hammering little nails into wood, painting the outer hive body (be careful don't get a spot of paint on the inside of the hive!), putting the frames together and filling them with foundation (a sheet of pre-pressed beeswax, sort of a starter for the bees so that they don't fill your hives with a mess of wax going in all directions!).

We waited impatiently for the phone call telling us our bees were ready. Finally it came - at about 6:00 am one morning. I was instructed to get to the Post Office as quickly as possible - they didn't sound happy....but perhaps it was because it was so early. Now, it must be told that in the classes they didn't mention how bees are shipped. A little oversight I am sure. So, I was not prepared....I am not quite sure what I expected...but it definitely wasn't what I found!

When I opened the door to our little post office (very little) I heard this strange humming...sort of like a bad fluorescent light. The postal person informed me that I had to go to the back door to get my bees. So, I went back to the car and drove around back. Once there they pointed to two boxes on the floor. I use the word "boxes" very loosely. There was a wood frame but the rest of the box was made from screen! Screen that appeared not to be attached securely enough in my opinion. Not nearly secure enough...and their little feet could come through...which meant immediately in my mind that stingers could come through.

The boxes of bees weighed 3 pounds each. There are about 4500 bees per pound...do the math!

I was looking at almost 30,000 bees.... swarming all over each other...moving constantly....and making the loudest humming sound! AND THEY WANTED ME TO PICK THEM UP WITH MY BARE HANDS AND PUT THEM IN MY CAR!!! Were they crazy? I just stared at them blankly as I slowly came to the realization that I would have to do that to get them home.

I grabbed the wooden edges of the boxes and placed them in the very back of my van. I was so thankful that I only had a 20 min. drive. I drove it quickly...very quickly...but in the middle of the drive I saw something fly past my rearview mirror....it couldn't be....it WAS! There was a loose bee - actually there were two! Of course in my mind that meant that they had tunneled out of the box somehow and I was about to be surrounded by 30,000 bees! I drove home with one eye on the rearview mirror and reciting to myself all the good things I had learned about bees.

I made it home without any further escapees - I left them on the carport and promptly called my husband to inform him that his bees had arrived! That evening we set the hives, donned the suits and poured the bees into the hive. Literally. The easiest way to do this is to spray them good with sugar water while they are in the boxes. They begin to groom themselves and each other to get the sugar water and you can actually pour them, just like water, into their hives then put the top on the hive and head for home!

It was several months before we got to taste honey - but it was worth the wait. It tasted different than store honey but I wasn't sure why. After some research, I learned that most beekeepers treat their hives with both antibiotics and chemical pesticides. Markers from both of these are showing up in honey now. The good news is that there are herbal alternatives to the pesticide and antibiotic routine.

Most store honey is also pasturized - this affects the taste and also kills the beneficial organisms in honey. God gave us honey in its natural state and I believe that is how He intended for us to use it. It not only tastes better but it is more healthy. Eating honey that is produced close to home will help reduce your allergy symptoms. Bees also produce royal jelly and propolis which are extremely beneficial to our health.

I encourage you to do some research and to think about keeping bees. At the very least, find a beekeeper within 5 miles of where you live and eat a teaspoon a day!

But most of all, I encourage you to have a hive of your own. Now is the time of year to get your hive ready....and then wait for that early morning phone call!


  1. Wonderful post! Makes me want to go get my own hive! Thankfully, I've got a good friend that does provide me with raw honey. I've been trying to replace honey for sugar in most recipes. I still have some fine tuning to do though!

  2. Super funny and informative! I'm not sure I'm quite *sold* on the prospect of keeping bees, perhaps I need to take a class or have a cranial exploratory event for thinking such thoughts. Thank you!

  3. Scott,
    I would greatly encourage you to look into it! You probably have a local beekeeping assoc. They are easy to care for, don't take a lot of time once you get the equipment built and the rewards are wonderful.....just get that head to toe suit - they can't sting through it!


  4. I have always wanted bees! You make it sound much easier than I suspected it would be.


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