I recently got a new roommate, Francis, who, as it turns out has a fairly interesting hobby.
"I keep bees."
"Really," I asked. "In the middle of the city? Is that legal?"
"Yeah. You dont have a problem with it do you? You can get some free honey out of it."
But things didnt to according to plan. Francis had one of those lease misunderstandings that often occur when your landlady is a sociopath. In this case, while Francis was still in the process of moving, the landladys aunt gave Franciss bees away, to a more or less random person, who snuck them out of the back yard while everyone in the house was at work, and whose phone number the aunt conveniently lost.
To make matters somewhat worse, the man who was the recipient of the free bees moved the queen in the middle of the day when all the other bees were out foraging, breaking one of the hard and fast rules of beekeeping in the process. So the other bees came back from work and when they discovered that the queen was gone, they began to swarm. So now the new tenants at the house have huge crowds of bees whirling around their ceiling.
In the meantime Francis was frantically looking for her hive, to no avail. Her old landlady was losing patience with her repeated phone calls.
"I dont think she understands why this was such a big deal." Said Francis. "I think she just thought they were a bunch of bugs."
Bee keeping is a big investment of money, work, and most importantly, time. A beginning bee-keeper can expect to work with a hive for about an hour a week. This may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that you can only get honey once a year. Francis got her hive from someone who was moving last August, right after the honey had been extracted. Then her hive disappeared this August, meaning she had been working with the hive for a year and all she had gotten was ripped off.
"Who ever took the bees has probably already extracted the honey. July or August is when it would be ready." She said. She was going to have to start all over.
"So whats your recourse going to be?" I asked.
"You mean other than slashing her tires?"
"Actually, I was wondering if you were going to start a new hive."
Which she is. New hives arent terribly expensive, less than a $100 outlay. After she gets the hive, which can be conveniently ordered in kit form, shell paint it, find a good location with shade, good air flow, preferably within one or two miles of a water source, and not near a large source of pesticides. Then she will treat the ground beneath it to prevent the infestations of beetles and mites that are often a problem for apiaries.
After that she will be ready to order the bees. To my inexpressible amusement bees are bought by the pound. It takes about three pounds of bees, plus the queen, to start a hive from scratch. A good beekeeper can actually look at a swarm of bees in a tree for instance, and say, "Well, I reckon thats about two pounds of bees." This seems like a skill that could have wide applicability in other fields. Think about it. Instead of you ever having to get on the scale during your physical, the doctor could just look you up and down and say, "Well, I reckon thats about 136 pounds of patient."
The bees should be installed in the hive in early April. Most bee companies dont even have their prices listed right now, because its too early in the year. So for those of you interested in starting your own hive you have lots of time to learn about what it takes and to get your own hive ready. Lexington has a very active community of Beekeepers, with monthly meetings, occasional workshops, and even a system of sharing one honey extractorthe one really expensive piece of bee keeping equipmentaround the area.
A good person to talk to would be Phil Craft, the state apiarist, who can point you in the direction of the local bee activities. Mr. Crafts e-mail address is Phil.Craft@ky.gov. Or visit Abigail at the Farmers Market every Saturday.
But maybe bee-keeping isnt your thing, but you still need some raw honey. After all, honey is anti-bacterial, anti-septic, it never goes bad, and researching cures for cancer using honey is a burgeoning industry. How would you get this wonder drug? Well, have you considered poaching? n