Monday, July 13, 2009

Bees & Birds

After visiting Novella Carpenter's farm yesterday, I came home and nervously decided to inspect our bee hives.  One morning last week I got up and, still in pajamas, decided to go peek at the entrances of the hives. During the day there are bees flying everywhere and they pay no attention to me. But this morning, when there was zilch going on, a guard bee spotted me four feet away, came zooming out and went for my head. Started thrashing around in my hair and after two minutes of frantic/furious buzzing, stung me on the back of the neck. It was horrible. Not the sting, but the sound of a tiny, angry creature crawling around in my hair. I have some primal issues with bees in my hair.

Anyway, I screwed up my courage and went into both hives yesterday.

The bees are doing okay, despite the proximity of the toxic buckeye tree. I did not see "brood" in the upper chambers of either hive -- just lots of comb and pale honey, both capped and uncapped -- which is not ideal. But I'm not sure what to do about it. According to my reading, there should be more brood.

I was also slightly worried that the bees were producing queen cells when I saw the lumpy formations on the bottom of this frame: 

But the raggedy comb extrusions appeared to be filled with honey and were not as tidy as the queen cells I've studied in photographs. If an experienced beekeeper sees this and has any thoughts, I would be grateful.

As I've mentioned before, I spent $934.69 on starter bees, two hives, and equipment. This morning I got curious and made some calculations:

A fairly average Bay Area hive can produce 25 lbs. of honey per year according to this site. Some hives produce much more; other hives perish. I don't expect any honey this year, but let's say I'm perfectly average and end up with 50 lbs. of honey from my two hives in the summer of 2010.
Twelve pounds of honey = 1 gallon. 

You can buy "Marin Mix" honey  -- which can't be much different from what my bees are making -- from Local Harvest for $88 per gallon.
So if I were to sell 4 gallons of our honey at that price, we could conceivably take in $350 per year. There would be other expenses -- sugar water, extra supers, jars, charming labels, etc. -- but at this rate, we would earn back our starting costs in roughly three years.

Interesting. And completely hypothetical. It's hard for me to believe that a beekeeper as amateurish as I am will ever actually collect honey.  It's even harder for me to imagine finding the wherewithal to bottle, market, and sell it. 

I still think the chickens could eventually earn their keep. Check out our handsome chicken house, built by Husband a few years ago as a fort:

I'm sure our neighbors love it. 

The garden is much prettier, albeit overcrowded. 
I was underconfident after years of disappointment, overplanted to make up for mingy yields, and now have a jungle. 


  1. My mint, which most people consider a weed, is currently brown-yellow leafless stalks, so your garden jungle looks amazing to me! Good going.

  2. Hmm, yes, bees in hair = not good. Do you have one of those beekeeper's suits with hood? I commend you for your bravery. Single bees/insects are no problem for me, but masses of them crawling around just gives me the creeps.

  3. Have you looked into whether there is a demand for artisan honey? I wonder if honey can be substituted for sugar in baking. I'm thinking no, but I don't know why.

  4. Sobaka -- I have a hood with a veil, but I wear a heavy bathrobe as the suit. It's really hot in that robe, but the full body coverage makes me feel safe and therefore, calm, which the bees appreciate. I tried to channel Queen Latifah this last time I went in the hive -- Every little thing needs love. Or whatever it was she said in Secret Life of Bees. It actually kind of worked.

    AzureSong -- You can substitute honey for sugar to some extent. My mother did it for years in the 1970s. She also eschewed chocolate in favor of carob. Those were strange times. Does anyone eat carob anymore?

  5. Ooo, our Moms were on the same wavelength! I had a carob cake for my first 3 birthdays. Now that I think about it, we did substitute honey for sugar. Also, brown rice for white rice (which was very weird for a Chinese family). And my parents were in a cult. (But that's a different story!)

  6. You know that photo of the fort/chicken house isn't quite fair. The thing isn't slanted. It is ugly, and I do wish we could grow a better fence of greenery to hide it.