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Confessions of a Surreptitious Beekeeper

by Bea Friendly

I have no idea whether or not there are any laws against raising bees in Nyack specifically but then I have always been someone who would rather apologize later than ask permission first.

So for now I will be a surreptitious beekeeper.

Of course I was elsewhere when my wife got the call from the post office informing us that approximately three and a half pounds of bees had arrived and could we come pick them up RIGHT NOW PLEASE!

She couldn’t tell who was more tightly wound when she got there, the post office or the bees but the pitch and tenor of both were pretty much the same.

All a-buzz.

Bees come in a small wooden shipping crate with two screened sides so you can see and hear (more importantly hear) what is inside.

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A buzzing swarm of bees makes a sound which I think is ingrained in our collective sense memory and immediately causes our heart rates to increase regardless of the fact that it is clearly evident they cannot escape.

Kind of like the sound of a rattlesnakes makes, you don’t have to have actually heard it before to know exactly what it is and what it means.

So the courageous  postal worker presented my wife with the package in one of those plastic totes that say ‘€œProperty of the US Postal Service’€ on it and my wife kindly offered to return it to the PO when she was done.

‘€œYeah whatever’€¦’€ was the reply and thus we were in possession of three and a half pounds of fairly docile Italian honey bees (there are no more native bees in this country). They are brown in color and a little fuzzy, I said I thought they were kinda cute and my wife looked at me like I was kinda nuts. I’ve seen that look before, trust me.

Since it was late I decided to wait until the next morning to introduce them to their new home and put the crate in my garage for the night. I took what was left in the plastic honey bear on the kitchen counter and drizzled it over the screened sides of the crate and would almost swear to it that I could hear a couple thousand bees all going ‘€œnum num num num num’€ as they eagerly cleaned the cage sides in about fifteen minutes.

So the next morning I went to introduce them to their new home (in an as yet undisclosed location).

Here’s how it works.

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First you have to prepare a new hive box. This consists of a brood chamber on a base with a screened bottom board and an inner and outer cover. Inside the brood chamber are ten frames specifically designed to adhere to something called ‘€œbee space’€ which allows for the bees to draw out the wax comb which the queen will lay her eggs in a framework that the bee keeper can manipulate.

So you take the shipping crate and locate the queen who is lodged in a smaller cage segregated inside. Remove the queen cage and take out one of the foundation frames of the brood chamber, then you carefully remove the wooden plug on the queen cage and there sugar candy stopper inside which the worker bees will eat to release her. Hang the queen cage in the space vacated by the brood frame. Now come the leap of faith. The instructions say to ‘€œdump the bees on top of the hive and they will release the new queen from her sugar cage’€.

Just dump em out huh? Okeedokie.  Here goes.

Did I happen mention about the noise three and a half pounds of now thoroughly pissed off bees makes when you try and dump em?

Well I must have done it right because regardless of all the complaining I didn’t get stung once (My funny protective bee suit hadn’t arrived yet by the way) and I attribute this to advice my brother in law gave me about spritzing them with sugar water first because using the smoker on swarming bees just causes them further agitation. They are too interested in the sugar water to pay much attention to the dummy doing the dumping.

It all went pretty well with only a few casualties (collateral damage?) and they pretty
quickly moved in and settled down to business.

It’s been a week now and I have been feeding them simple syrup I make with Costco’s light brown sugar and water and aside from one frame collapsing in the brood chamber they seem to be pretty happy and dare I say, busy?

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I am doing this as an experiment. I understand that there are no wild colonies of bees anymore. This is due in part to several new diseases propagated by transient hives and the increase use of pesticides for things like West Nile virus and several parasites that weaken the colonies. I want to see if a suburban area like Nyack can support a small scale apiary of one or two hives and thrive amidst all of our expensive landscaping.

I have also read that local honey is a good treatment for local allergy season.
Too bad I couldn’t get the new colony a month ago. Nyack could have used another couple thousand residents on this years census don’t you agree?




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