Becoming Backyard Beekeepers
Jill and Jeff are the proud new keepers of about 20,000 honeybees in their Del Ray backyard. Farmers Heidi and Stefano of azure b delivered them in person from their apiary in Maryland.
In the coming weeks and months, Heidi and Stefano will help Jill and Jeff understand every aspect of beekeeping. Jeff wanted to try out the hobby and support the ever-important and threatened pollinator. Jill, while admittedly a fascinated bystander, may also sell their honey in the Cheesetique restaurants she owns. She’s our own Del Ray cheese lady, second from left in the photo.
Jill invited me to witness the arrival of their bees. Carrying in the two custom-build vertical hive stands, Stefano remarked on how perfect the space would be, next to a building blocking the wind, with a nice clear path from the hives over the fence, and a warm Southern exposure.
Before he and Jeff brought the bees to the spot, he showed the frames that you can slide in and out. They’ll eventually be filled with combs, and in about 18 months, lots and lots of rich, delicious honey. All of the frames are pulled out to make room for the first installation of bees.
Stefano carried in the colony in two separate cages, each filled with bees and one queen bee in each. The queen and her attendants travel in a separate cage inside the main cage. Stefano will pull the queen’s cage out when he opens the feeder can that’s filled with thick sugar water, which you’ll see in the next few photos.
He set the cages (or boxes) down with a bit of force so that the bees would settle to the bottom, if at all possible. It’s not necessary, but does make fewer bees escape while he removes the feeder can positioned inside each frame.
Here Stefano is prying off the top of the feeder can to reveal the queen bee cage.
The yellow strip was stuck to the outside of the box so Stefano could easily pull out the queen bee cage, obviously a very popular place to congregate.
Stefano gently shook this group of bees into the hive so he could inspect the queen bee cage.
You can’t tell from this photo, but the queen has a larger abdomen. Stefano will place the the queen in the hive stands before the rest of the colony goes in. She stays in the cage until the other bees eat the sugar plug (white mass in the photo below), which will take about a week. By that time, the hive will be used to her smell and pheromones and will accept her as their rightful ruler.
With a gentle heave-ho, Stefano transferred the rest of the bees to one of the two hives. And that was when the bees went a bit haywire, not angry or attacking, just… everywhere.
I wondered why Stefano wasn’t wearing the protective “bee suit” that you see on the typical beekeeper, but as he puts it, “patience and courtesy are safer than moon suits.” He said that if we stay calm, the bees stay calm.
My daughter Nadja and Jeff and Jill’s daughter Libby mocked the idea of being scared, but were actually fearless, still, and respectful as the bees were flying about — seeming a bit disoriented, but also inquisitive about their new surroundings.
As Stefano transferred the bee colony into the hive stands, he talked nonstop to a rapt audience about the characteristics of bees — their lifespan, the role of the queen and her “court,” the queen’s diet of “royal jelly,” and the role of the drones and worker bees, made up of the nurse bees, house bees, guards, coroners, and foragers. To learn more about bees and beekeeping, Stefano and Heidi recommend the book and website, The Practical Beekeeper.
The bees occasionally landed on one of us. Stefano was able to identify the exact type of bee when it landed on him and even the approximate age. This one he said was older, a worker bee at the end of her short life of 1-4 months. He could tell from the worn condition of her wings.
This curious bee hung out on my leg for good while before it finally made its way to the new hive.
Believe it or not, only one person got stung during the installation — Heidi. She saw it as an opportunity to educate Jill and Jeff about how to treat the invariable sting. First, scrape the stinger away and then apply a cold lemon wedge and vinegar. She also recommended a homeopathic remedy called Apis Mellifica that you can buy at a health food store. It’s made from desiccated whole bees and is suppose to work wonders on stings.
Eventually the bees will establish their new community and get busy with gathering pollen. And, as we all know, there’s plenty around town this time of year. (In fact, they’ll gather approximately 66 lbs. of pollen per year, per hive.)
You can take beekeeping classes with Heidi and Stefano on their farm to learn how to start your own beekeeping journey.
I first met the Briguglio’s when I attended a worm composting workshop on their farm a few years ago. Their kitchen composter, which you can order from their website, is another specialty of their business. It’s great seeing them in Del Ray again and watching as they help more communities become stewards and advocates of honeybees.