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

Relocating a Beehive

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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.

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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.

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

20,000 Bees In The Back Seat

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What does it sound like to drive with 20,000 bees in the backseat? Like you’ve got boiling water back there, or a pan of sizzling oil. Every once in a while a straggler bee on the outside of one of the mesh/wood cages would fly loose in the cabin, then make its way out the window. Other than that, the drive from Healdsburg to San Francisco was sting-free as we transported four packages of spring bees to their new hives in a Mission District urban farm.

We shook the bees into hives of drawn-out honeycomb, suspended the queen in her individual cage between two frames, fed them lots of 1:1 sugar water and closed the hives. We’ll be back on Wednesday to hand-release the queen. By then, the colonies should have acclimated to her pheromone and will accept, rather than murder, her. I decided against swapping the cork in her cage for a marshmallow, because the bees were so hungry when I got them that I worried they would eat through the marshmallow in minutes. Colonies need at least two to three days to get used to their new queen.

Here’s a photo gallery of our trip, and a slow-motion video showing how to shake bees into a new hive. Images and video by Jenn Jackson.

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