Wednesday, May 21, 2008


While I've long had a general appreciation for honeybees, I didn't know much about them except the general things most people know: they're good for the garden and crops; they're clever engineers; they make something good to eat!

I started to get more interested last year after reading Douglas Whynott's (ain't that a great name?) "Following the Bloom: Across America With the Migratory Beekeepers." As it turns out, I reviewed it exactly a year ago today! (My review is here.)

About a month after that, I saw my first wild beehive, in a tree that had blown down in a storm. I started noticing bees around me more, and wondered where their hives were. Still just in a vague sort of way.

In the last couple of weeks, though, my sighting of three different swarms within blocks of each other pushed my interest up several notches. Where do bees live? All around me! These urban bees are not keeping house in a row of tidy white boxes watched over by a beekeeper but in countless hollowed-out trees and likely an attic or two.

And quite possibly, as I've discovered, in a backyard beehouse discreetly harbored by a bee-loving neighbor. I don't know this for sure, but if there are people quietly keeping chickens in my 'hood (and I know there are), surely there are some beekeepers too.

After I saw that first swarm, I started researching in earnest, and ran across Boulder-based The site has a wealth of information for urban beekeepers and answered a lot of questions I had.

The site also introduced me to the top-bar hive. This kind of hive has been used by beekeepers for thousands of years and is common in Africa. It is not as efficient for honey production as the more recent and popular box-type hives (called the Langstroth system), but is easier to maintain and possibly healthier for the bees.

Isn't it attractive? One of the things that has kept me from thinking I could keep bees in my yard is the very obvious nature of the white, traditional beebox. If just one nosy and ignorant neighbor spotted it and freaked out, I'd probably have to get rid of it. Never mind that honeybees are not aggressive and are good for our gardens. They are not at all like wasps or hornets.

But this hive is both attractive and discreet. It doesn't scream out "BEEEEEEES! BEES LIVE HERE!" Should it be spotted through a gap in the fence, I doubt the casual passer-by would recognize what it is. And the supposed ease of maintaining it (plus the nifty viewing window in the side) has tipped me over from "I wish I could keep bees" to "How soon can I keep bees?"

I could buy a box from the site, but they're quite expensive. Happily, they offer the plans, too, so Pascal is going to see if he can build one. I can order just the top bars, which appear to be the most critical element to get exactly right.

I doubt I will get bees this year, but I am planning on it for next spring. I will likely take a class from the Backyardhive folks, and then watch for a swarm to capture. The lady who who had two this year has my number!

To see all the posts about my bee encounters, click here.


  1. Good luck with the bee project. It would scare the life out of me to keep them but they are gentle creatures who's numbers are dwindling every year. Do your bit for nature and shame the rest of us.

  2. Very cool. My husband on the other hand would FREAK OUT. He hates all things that fly lol. He's allergic to them too so I think that adds to his paranoia.

  3. I think it's a cool plan. I found out I'm allergic to wasps (rather dramatically!) but bees can hang out on me all day with no problems. My CSA growers are having a hell of a time keeping their bees alive this (and last) year, though.

  4. My neighbors would definitely freak if I had bees. But, your bees made our evening news out here. I thought of you the whole time. And I think it's great that you're going to keep bees. Very exciting. I may add them to the list of things I'll grow if we ever buy land! (chickens are already on the list.)

  5. With Colony Collapse Disorder, bee hobbyists and small organic farmers will help these little guys survive. I'd have bees in a minute out here on the High Plains, but alas, the towns and counties spray Malathion to kill mosquitoes, and the pesticide is highly toxic to bees, too. The leadership around here doesn't seem to connect the dots though. Maybe if they can't ever buy fruit again they'll figure out how important bees really are in the grand scheme of things.

  6. Where I live, the neighbors would know everything. But I used to have about a half acre, and longed for some ducks. Okay, so ducks are not quite bees, but still. Good luck with your cool project...

  7. What a great new hobby. I look forward to you gathering your own honey one day! Maybe even have your own line of honey? Call it Honey-Kitt? ;)

  8. You're brave to keep bees...bees give me the heebie jeebies, even the more docile ones.

    Good luck and here's to good honey!

  9. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone!

    I used to be more freaked out by bees, but that was partly from not understanding their difference from wasps and hornets, and not being able to tell the difference.

    I don't know if I'm allergic, actually. I plan to get tested to make sure. DG, it's funny you're allergic to one and not the other.

    Mary, you said "your bees made our evening news out here." What story was that? We had something on the news the other day about three swarms taken out of one tree somewhere, but I think that only made TV because it was a slow news day.