{the honeybee saga} Let Me Start at the Beginning…

{a bunch of my bee equipment that is currently in my basement}
{a bunch of my bee equipment that is currently in my basement}

Today I went out to the farm where I will be keeping my bees this year. I went out there to get milk but happened to see the owner working outside so we chatted for a bit. We discussed how as soon as the weather looks like it’s going to stay nice, I’m bringing my hives and such out there to find a good place for their permanent home.

The crazy thing is that the events of a few weeks ago could’ve completely undone my entire plan to keep honeybees this year. Let me start at the beginning…

Late last summer I was feeling very anxious to get this homestead up and running. The problem is that the Village we live in doesn’t have laws that support all of my goals. I’m very stubborn so I began to think of ways to have more than just a garden without any legal issues coming up. I’m friends with some farmers near here and they have huge pastures. Could I put some bees there?

I asked and was glad to see that the farmer was very open to this idea. In fact, it would be good for his garden and alfalfa fields. He just asked if he could have some honey when it’s harvested. No problem there!

First, Jillian and I took a class through the Southern Adirondack Beekeepers Association (SABA) about beginning beekeeping. It was an excellent class and I took tons of notes. We got catalogs and magazines and they let us do a honey sampling. Armed with my list of supplies I set out to get all of my equipment and bees.

When you order bees you can either buy packaged bees or NUCs (which is just short for “nucleus”). A package of bees are bees and a separated queen that haven’t started to build their colony. A NUC a basically a mini colony with bees in all stages of development. There are pros and cons to both, but generally speaking getting a NUC can give you a jump-start to the season, which is nice up here since the season is very short. The downside to getting a NUC is there is a significant cost difference instead of just buying packaged bees.

My mentor through SABA happens to be a friend of mine and she suggested I order a NUC through another member of the organization. He raises and sells NUCs and he’s well-liked and well-respected. Since I’m doing two hives I ordered two NUCs at $125 each. I should have them about two months from now. With that squared away, I made a list of the rest of the items I would need.

I had the original list from the beginning beekeeping class and then checked with my mentor. Starting up hives (especially two at once, which was recommended) isn’t necessarily cheap. You can’t get anything used that may have had bees on it, as you could have disease transfer that would destroy your colonies. I also wanted to be frugal and not get a bunch of excess tools and items I may not use.

We are lucky up here to have a great beekeeping store in Greenwich called Betterbee. With list in hand, I called up there one day to place my order, which I would be picking up that afternoon. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, and when I arrived my order was ready to go and they helped me load it into my car. There are still a few things I may get, but I still have time.

{the trunk of my car leaving Betterbee, filled with frames}
{the trunk of my car leaving Betterbee, filled with frames}

Now, in addition to my own two hives, Philip Kilpatrick (Michael’s older brother) and I are going to be taking care of the KFF hives this year. We are aiming at 4-6 hives out there, and hopefully we will actually have some honey to sell at market this year.

With all of the supplies, bees, and anything else, I will probably have spent $1000 just getting this going. As long as the hives don’t get torn to pieces by a bear, or I don’t lose the bees to certain diseases, I shouldn’t have to keep spending as much each year. If my colonies get strong and I decide to split them in the future, I will just need to purchase more hive boxes and frames. (*Note: putting together wood frames yourself is very cheap but also very tedious and time-consuming; unless you are on an extremely tight budget just get frames that are already put together.)

As you can see, I’ve spent a significant amount of time and money getting ready for these awesome little creatures. I’ve been nothing but excited during these months since I knew I would be allowed to keep them somewhere. Until my husband asked one question, “Have you ever been stung by a bee?” Ummmmm….no!

{my arm after the blood draw}
{my arm after the blood draw}

Really and truly I never have been. The tricky thing about bee allergies is that even if I was stung as a kid, I could have developed an allergy now. Bee allergies can develop during life and can also get worse with each subsequent sting. I was going to have to get blood drawn and an allergy test to see if I was at risk. If the allergy was severe enough, I wouldn’t be able to risk keeping bees. Trust me, like I mentioned before, I’m stubborn and I considered the notion of going forward with it. Thankfully Philip is an EMT so I’d feel safe taking care of the bees with him, but I’m going to be completely alone when I am with my own bees.

Thankfully, after a long weekend of waiting, my doctor called to give me the good news that I’m not allergic. He did give me two Epi pens just in case though. He also gave me a course of action to take if I get stung and I need to bring out a pouch containing baby wipes, Benadryl cream, Benadryl liquid, and the Epi pens each time I go to check on the hives.

It’s amazing to think all of that planning could’ve been undone by something so simple. I’m incredibly grateful I’m not allergic, but also grateful that sometimes my husband has better foresight than I do.

{a closeup of a frame that I put together. It's a molded sheet of beeswax that has support wire going through it}
{a closeup of a frame that I put together. It's a molded sheet of beeswax that has support wire going through it}

Yesterday, while I was enjoying this freak burst of spring, a honeybee landed on my leg. She looked so tiny and I just stared at her for a minute, until she flew away. It was nice to see a bee out and about. I can’t wait to get the call that my NUCs are ready. Now I get to focus on all the other ins and outs that go along with keeping bees. Stay tuned!


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Ona says:

    I’m so excited about your honeybees – I can’t wait to get updates.

    I have considered keeping bees on our property, but need to get an education before I take that consideration seriously…. and I guess I should get tested to see if I am allergic as well!

    Thank You for the informative write up.

  2. Mil says:

    I’m glad you have the epi-pen and I hope you will wear all the protective gear too. One caveat, I did get more allergic after getting stung a couple times by the bees. We’ve had bees since 2008. The last time, last summer, was scary, though. I got stung in the head (Worst place to get stung, I think, because the venom just runs throughout the body) and I broke out in hives! I’ve never had that reaction before. So yeah, just be careful and you should be fine.

  3. Celia says:

    Ahhhh, so cool! I’d love to keep bees someday. (I never thought about the potential for allergy, though, so I’ll have to keep that in mind whenever we’re finally in one spot for more than a couple of years.) Best of luck! I hope the beekeeping goes well. Such cool animals. 🙂

  4. Dianna says:

    I tried keeping bees once and built my own frames. It turned out that, in spite of the fact that I am an entomologist by training, they scared me. If I ever decide to get another hive, I will definitely help take care of someone else’s hives for a season first.

    Great project.

  5. Erika T. says:

    Thank you everyone. I definitely have protective gear as well. My mom has actually developed an allergy to bees over the year so I hope it doesn’t happen to me too. Dianna I can’t even imagine you being afraid of bees!

  6. Kris says:

    Good luck with your hives! Not only would it be awesome to have your own honey, but bees are so fascinating. I have a feeling bees may be in my future (next year?), so I’ll be very interested to hear more about yours.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I didn’t realize you could get a blood test for a bee allergy, although it makes perfect sense. We keep thinking about getting bees, so that would be a good thing to do before taking the next step. The hard part will be getting my wife to consent to having her blood drawn. 🙂 Thanks!!

  8. Bill says:

    Good luck with the new venture. They can be very rewarding. Have been in and around the hobby for 30 years and still makes me glad to see new people giving it a shot.
    We made all of our own boxes, bottom boards, inner and outer lids and frames and can readily attest to the time and patience needed. Makes a good winter project, wiring and putting foundation in frames.

    Just wait until you have to brand the bees. How else can you keep track of which ones are yours? 😉

  9. Bill says:

    Sting reactions can also go the other direction from allergies. As a kid, I used to swell up really bad after a sting. By now, I don’t swell up at all and barely get any indication at all I was stung. If stung by a honey bee, always use a fingernail to scrape across the skin to remove the stinger. If you try to grab the stinger, you’re just squeezing more more venom into yourself. Scraping pops it out without the squeezing.

    (PS – Apparently my ‘immunity’ translates to fire ants as well as I don’t react to their bites, either.)

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