The Birds and The Bees

Bird FeedersSpring is a couple months away and the weather might be cold and dreary, but I have the birds and the bees on my mind. My bird feeders in the back yard have been visited by the local chickadees, juncos, cardinals, blue jays and other birds; and we started bee school in January with two classes under our belt so far.

I put up some new feeders this year, and the birds have quite enjoyed them. A small suet feeder has been favored by a downy woodpecker, some starlings, and other large birds. On the regular feeders the chickadees, cardinals, and nuthatches are nice enough to kick feed onto the ground so the juncos, blue jays, mourning doves and other birds can find food as well. They make me smile every morning, and our dog Laura loves chasing the crows when they come for a visit.

On the beekeeping front, I am officially a beekeeper in training. My helpers S and G travel with me Thursday evenings for a two hour class. Our first session was a general overview of beekeeping in Virginia, which apparently is not the friendliest place for bees. Our main nectar flow is from April to June, with a smaller one in late fall around September.  So the bees really have to work to gain enough stores to last both through the summer and especially over the winter.

The most interesting part of this first class was when the 20 or so families told their why-I-want-to-beekeep stories. One woman from Scotland, attending with her daughter, grew up on bee stories from her grandfather. She already has a top bar hive with bees and would like to try Langstroth hives. A few couples with newly purchased houses where they hope to keep bees. One guy took over unwanted hives from his brother. A number of parents with their children (like me!). A nicely crowded room with a good group of folks eager and anxious to look after bees. I look forward to getting to know them better.

Our second class focused on equipment. Local beekeeper Chris Hewitt presented the boxes, frames, tools, and clothing needed to keep bees in Langstroth hives. He uses a double-deep 10-frame setup for the queen and her brood, but also showed how to establish a hive with three 10-frame mediums; or with a deep and two medium 8-frame boxes. The deep boxes, as you may know, are just over 9 inches high, while mediums are just over 6 inches high. The queen is said to like the deeper frames, but a beekeeper’s back likes a smaller box. Decisions, decisions.

In addition to the question of deep vs medium and 8 vs 10 frames per box, there is also the questions of foundation. Bees will make their own comb, of course, but providing a sheet of wax with impressions of honeycomb in each frame helps keep the comb straight and the bees focused on honey. Some say it is not needed, but the consensus is that bees draw straighter, stronger comb with foundation. This comes in plastic with wax coatings, beeswax with embedded wire, or just plain wax. Even more decisions.

Enough choices to make my head spin — no wonder I found a top bar hive so appealing. Yet another issue is that I will be able to purchase nucleus colonies (nucs) through my group, and the bulk of these will be on deep frames. So using only mediums could make it harder to purchase a beginning nuc.

I am determined to give Langstroth hives a go, so have settled on 8-frame boxes using one deep and two mediums as the base of the hive (the brood area, as it is called). If the bees do exceptionally well, additional medium boxes go on top to collect honey. I am not expecting honey the first year, but I’ll get an extra box just in case. Having the deeps will make ordering a nuc easier, and I can still switch to all mediums boxes in the future if I wish.

In other news, I have started talking to the neighbors about my new buzz. With our larger yards there should be no complaints, but you never know. I am happy to report that so far the neighbors are very supportive (whew!). The biggest challenge will be setting up a water source so the bees do not visit nearby pools. I have a plan for this, which I’ll share in a future post.

Bee JacketMy final news is a brief road trip I took down to Virginia Bee Supply in Remington, VA. Beekeeping hoods, called veils, come in various shapes (look, yet another decision!). Virginia Bee Supply is about 40 minutes from my home, so it was well worth a trip to try on the different styles and gain some insight from another beekeeper. I ended up purchasing an Inspector Jacket with a round veil, shown on the left of this small photo from their web site.

With the birds feeding and the bees coming, this title seemed perfect! I’ve been searching for an appropriate January theme, reading bee poems, be quotes, bee quotes, all to no avail. I went to the store on Sunday to pick up some bird seed, and when I came home saw this post on beesource.com asking whether beehives can be placed near bird feeders. The title clicked, and here we are.

Of course, the normal meaning of the title as a euphemism for s-e-x is another subject entirely. According to the LA Times, one of the earliest direct references is from the poem Work Without Hope by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, whose 1825 verses include the lines “All nature seems at work . . . The bees are stirring-birds are on the wing . . . and I the while, the sole unbusy thing, not honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.” The article also mentions an earlier reference in a 1644 book the Evelyn Diary that associates birds and bees with cherubs, as a possible precursor for the modern idiom. See the full article for details, and in the meantime enjoy the winter birds and your own thoughts of bees.

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5 thoughts on “The Birds and The Bees

  1. Beekeeping is so different in the U.S.! In the UK the most popular hive is the National, which fits 11 frames and measures 460 x 460mm. Usually the bees will be kept in one of these deep boxes with supers put on top as needed, but some people will keep their bees in two deep boxes, which is called having a ‘double brood box’. There are variations but perhaps people use a wider variety of shapes and sizes in the U.S.

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    • Yes, it is. The 8 frame boxes are relatively new, but I think I may appreciate their smaller, lighter size. Many U.S. beekeepers run double broods here as well, but some are trying to use only medium boxes as a way to have all equal-sized frames and lighter boxes. I like the idea, and may try it eventually. Other than top bar hives, most U.S. beekeepers use the three Langstroth sizes. Apparently there use to be a larger size like your National frames, but they have fallen out of favor.

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  2. Yes, that was one of the concerns raised. It should make it easier for the bees to move around the frames since there is more bee space available, so perhaps that helps. I’ll let you know if I ever get that far!

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