If you've been keeping up with our Instagram or Facebook accounts (if you haven't been, what are you doing with your internet?! Get on it!), you are already well aware of the fact that this winter was primarily dedicated to one pursuit (beyond the standard artistic futzing, sewing, sanding, Airbnb hosting, cleaning, repairing, etc): preparing for the newest addition to The Homestead - bees!
We've been dreaming and talking about adding animals to The Homestead since we began our endeavors here almost three years ago. Truth be told, I think we figured we'd already have bees and chickens and ducks and goats by now, but we're hardly ballers, and the foundations of responsible animal husbandry lay in providing a safe and comfortable environment for your new friends and farmhands, something that's proved a little tough to achieve rapidly when done on a shoestring. So, despite our burning enthusiasm for more than just plants, we've been taking our time, reading, preparing, scrimping, saving, and building. Nature doesn't really allow you to rush, and learning this lesson in the garden over and over and over again, we've taught ourselves to be satisfied (or at least to tolerate) moving at the pace that we can, instead of the pace that we wish we could, and after three years, we've finally taken our first step in diversifying the animal population here. As of a week ago, we officially have a happy mass of bees occupying the brand new top-bar hive that we knocked together in the basement. Having a superorganism as an addition to The Homestead is pretty neat-o, it turns out. Anyway, what's the worst thing that could happen?
For all of that reading I did, it's hard to say whether or not I actually learned anything in preparation for this endeavor. I'd imagine what I've experienced so far as a novice beekeeper is something very similar to what new parents must go through. My running thoughts have been "how do I not kill this thing?" and "uh...so, what am I supposed to do, now?" So, parents, don't think you're unique in that experience - all you have to do is try to start keeping bees with nobody except the ghosts of unmet advisers out of books and internet forums suggesting that you do things this way, no that way, no, just don't fuss with it at all it'll be fine, you're doing it wrong, you're fine......
Thankfully, bees are really good at making do, and given a hollow cavity protected from the elements (even if it's not nearly as pretty or perfect as I would have it, given all of the money and time and carpentry skills that I lack), they will reliably do what nature has suited them to do very well, without my hand wringing. A week after dumping three pounds of bees into a hive that still smelled of sawdust and wood glue, there are combs in there, oriented the way that we had hoped they'd be oriented, and the bees seem to be multiplying. Neither I, nor Matt has been stung, despite my still learning to move slowly and deliberately so as not to crush any of my new friends (I have, and I'm still mourning the loss), and watching workers arriving back at the hive, so covered head to foot in pollen that they are weighted beyond their ability to move gracefully, is more entertaining than anything the internet or television has to offer, more life-affirming than an all-night dance party, and more adorable than your cat.
We're doing things as organically and bee-centric as possible, which means no pesticides, using sugar-water spray as a distraction instead of smoke, no excessive messing around with them, no artificial food. We'll get whatever honey we get, and although we look forward to it, we're trying to not make that our end goal. Having a hive here is reward enough for us and the local biosphere, and anything short of hive collapse will be a roaring success for two people who had to make a veil out of an old hat and some window screen (not photographed....yet). In the meantime, we'll be taking a lot of photos, and trying to contain our enthusiasm for our new winged friends to manageable and only slightly obnoxious levels. Keep an eye out, I'm sure there's plenty more to come with this leg of the project.