Grandpa’s Last Beehive

IMG_3284

Before Grandpa passed away last May, he asked me to take care of his bees. He was 89, and although he had years ago reluctantly given up his Big Sur beekeeping career because he was too frail to lift the honey-heavy hives, he still liked to watch the wild bees set up homes in a pile of deteriorating bee equipment in his backyard.

Now all that’s left is one hive. The bees were entering through a small crack in the top left corner.

IMG_3282IMG_3283

When I pried through a seal of gummy brown propolis, I found a very small colony trying to raise eggs in frames that had been destroyed by mice, wax moths and who knows what.

IMG_3286IMG_3287

The frames crumbled in places when I lifted them. I carefully searched, and found eggs and larvae. And a spot of honey.

IMG_3288

Then I saw the queen! (6 o’clock)

IMG_3293

I carefully transferred Grandpa’s frames into a deep I brought from home with four empty wax frames. I heard a collective thrum of excitement from the bees. I think they were overjoyed to have clean wax and more room.

IMG_3294

I used mesh drawer liners and duct tape to cover the entrances for the trip to the Bay Area.

IMG_3295IMG_3297IMG_3296

I secured the lid for the two-hour journey.

IMG_3299 IMG_3298

Their new home was waiting when I pulled up at 10 p.m. I transferred them to the garden, removed the mesh (got stung on my right pinky finger), and fed them with a 1:1 sugar-water ratio. I also placed a super of sticky honeycomb on the ground nearby so they could find it in the morning for easy forage. I filled a planter tray with rocks and water so they could have water close by.

IMG_3302

In the morning, they made small, exploratory flights around the garden. I hope, with more room, new equipment, my mothering and Grandpa’s spirit, this little hive will survive.

IMG_3300GpaFrameLift

R.I.P.

Franklin Peace, 1926-2015

Relocating a Beehive

IMG_3203

A friend recently told me she wanted to move her beehive across the yard, about 10 feet from its spot.  As incredibly smart as bees are, they can’t find their hive if you move it to a different place in the same bee yard. They will return to the old location, circle in a confused cloud, and perish overnight while their home is sitting, literally, feet away.

So if you want to move your hive, you have to shift it less than a foot a day, to let the bees acclimate, until you have your hive where you want.

OR

You move it miles away.

IMG_3207 (1)

The bees will sense they are in unfamiliar turf, make short exploratory flights until they orient themselves and then settle in to their new zip code.

So, how do you move a live hive of bees?

Carefully. You need ratchet tie-downs to secure the hive boxes. You need to staple mesh over the hive entrance to keep the bees inside during transport. And you should move it either before dawn, before the bees wake, or late after sundown when they have returned from foraging in the sunlight. That way you won’t strand thousands of bees while they are out collecting nectar and pollen.

Put the hive in a truck bed, tie it down again, and drive like there are infinite tomorrows. Make ’em honk!

Today some friends and I relocated a hive to Connecticut Friendship Garden in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. Happy to report my bee operation, and my heart, are both expanding.

IMG_3199

Welcome to your new home! Here is video of the bees checking the place out:

Bee Lesson Number Five

Curious what the inside of the hive looks like from a bee’s POV, I put my iPhone at the entrance with the lens facing inward, and pressed video slomo.

What I captured was pure comedy, and another life lesson: When you lose your footing and fall down, inspecially in front of a crowd, there’s nothing you can do but dust yourself off and take another step forward. Like it never even happened.

Bee Lesson Number Four

SwarmBehavior

LESSON FOUR – Fear is 99% Wrong

Bees are more afraid of you than you are of them. A bee does not want to sting you – because it knows it will die if it does. When a bee plunges its barbed stinger into your skin, it rips from her abdomen, disemboweling her.

Working with bees all my life, I’ve discovered that these fearsome creatures are actually gentle, only stinging when I am clumsy and accidently step on them or squish them with my finger. In fact, bees will head butt my veil, warning me to back away from the hive when they are ready for me to close the hive back up – typically they lose their patience after about 90 minutes.

I can put my bare hand into a hive of bees and scoop up a handful without getting stung, if I do it slowly, gently and with good intentions. It actually tickles.

Another important bee lesson: do the thing that scares you because that is the only way to dislodge your fears.

My Love Letter to the Bees – A Radio Interview

header

The lovely doyenne of San Francisco radio, Janet Gallin, host of the Love Letters Live radio show, opened up her airwaves recently to chat with me about life lessons from the hive. Thanks my friend, as always, it was a blast.

Meredith May SF beekeeper grateful for being raised by the bees

Meredith May SF Beekeeper photo by Matt May

Meredith May, journalist, teacher, SF beekeeper and granddaughter of E. Franklin Peace the beekeeper of Big Sur, is back to talk some more about bees and just in time, too, since there is good news about the much discussed, troublesome and mysterious hive abandonment, more currently known as colony collapse disorder. Meredith is one of those people who can talk about the same subject time and again and always bring something new to the table. The hive, it turns out, is very much like some combination manufacturing factory and royal palace with guards, specific jobs, loyalty to hive, scent of the hive set by the queen and a willingness to sacrifice life for the good of the colony.

Meredith talks about the bees, her girlhood with them, being raised by her grandfather and their adventures in the honeybus, which was the honey factory and, in essence, their own personal hive where she and her grandfather would escape to share times. Interesting to note that it was not until her grandfather had to retire from formal bee-keeping that Meredith felt the urge to keep the bees herself. Because the bees helped her overcome childhood challenges that arose from the negative model of what family life should be, because how they lived their lives taught her what she wanted to be, her love letter is, yes, to the bees. You can read it here and know that her soon to be published book The Honeybus, a bee-keeping memoir beginning with a child’s point of view and extending past muddled personal times to her adulthood, will be the fuller expression of Meredith’s gratitude to her grandfather and to the bees.

A silver lining brightening the cloud of E Franklin Peace’s passing is, of course that Meredith was there with her heart and hand open to receive the baton he was passing to her.