Pimp My Apiary

I have beekeeper envy of my friend Earl’s bee yard in Port Costa. He has thirty-plus hives of happy, gentle bees that have acres and acres of unmolested meadows to draw from.

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Over Memorial Day Weekend, my other beekeeper pal Aaron and I helped Earl inspect his hives. First Earl schooled us on the proper way to light a smoker. Cedar slices + broken bits of tree branch + balls of green grass = a smoker that goes for an hour or more.

Then we checked his hives to make sure the bee colonies are thriving. We looked for eggs and a queen. Earl is so badass he doesn’t wear any protection.

During a snack break in his “bee trailer” (WANT), he showed us the pollen he’s collecting from just one hive.

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There were yellow, purple, grey, red and orange balls of pollen, all from the different plants growing in the area.

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Curious, we decided to separate and taste the different colors to see if we could tell which plants produced the pollen.

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Here are our tasting notes:

RED – earthy, with a sour, bitter bite. Most likely culprit: Buckeye

YELLOW – grassy, tastes like horse saddle. Plant guess: Mustard

PURPLE – floral, sweetpea. Plant guess: Thistle

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At the end of the day, Earl gave Aaron and me a split colony to take back to our garden in San Francisco. We call them “Earl’s Bees” and they are adjusting well to their urban neighbors. (hive on right)

 

What Do Bees Taste Like?

Ask a kid.

Every fall, I remove spare frames of drone larvae from my hives to help keep mite counts low. I freeze the larvae and give them to my friends who have chickens.

But in this case, the boys got to the bugs first. They tried to get me to try one, but I was too chicken.

 

Leaving Home, from a Bee’s POV

Pardon the vertical video – it was the best way to capture my bees coming in for a landing in slomo. With the sunlight behind them, you can see their bellies full of nectar. All four of my hives are thriving, and I’m happy to report that Grandpa’s hive has doubled in size since I put it in the back yard two months ago.

A Tour Inside Grandpa’s Honey Bus

Here’s Grandpa, the man who taught me beekeeping when I was five, touring the inside of his World War II Army Bus – turned honey factory in his Carmel Valley backyard. He expounds on honey harvesting, why the bees are disappearing, and the proper way to remove a stinger.

This is one of the last videos I took of him before he passed away earlier this year. Note he wears no gloves when he sticks his hands in a hive!

Grandpa’s Last Beehive

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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.

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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.

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

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Then I saw the queen! (6 o’clock)

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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.

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

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I secured the lid for the two-hour journey.

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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.

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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.

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R.I.P.

Franklin Peace, 1926-2015