Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bees in the Trees

As some of you may know, one of my hobbies is urban self-sufficiency/ sustainability. I live in an old neighborhood in downtown New Orleans that used to be part of a plantation. My property was subdivided in the 1770s, and my house built about one hundred years after that. Like many New Orleans houses, the front sits right on the sidewalk, but I have a rather large back yard, about fifty by thirty feet. Plenty of room to do lots of things with.

We always have a few vegetables -- tomatoes, basil, peas. We've planted many fruit trees: satsuma, apple, Seville oranges, key limes, peach, and lemon. We have two types of grapes: Thompson seedless and scuppernogs.

Our big venture started in March of 2008 when I began raising chickens. I ordered a dozen bantam Silkies from an online hatchery, built a coop, and so far have loved every second of it. About a year ago, we hatched our own too, and ended up with eight new hens and only one rooster in the brood.

Since the chickens were such a success, I felt the next logical step would be bees. Both my husband and I had issues branching into another protein, like rabbits, because we don't like to kill. Having to butcher the occasional extra rooster is bad enough. Raising something just to butcher seemed...well, excessive. But bees would not only ensure pollination in our yard, but provide honey as well. This would be one more step to separate us from dependence on, say, refined sugar. Having a natural sweetener to use when canning and jam making with all the fruit would be just awesome.

I asked for beekeeping stuff for Christmas last year, but didn't get any of it. That was probably for the best. Further research showed that it is rather difficult to get bees in Louisiana. Most people don't ship down here, I guess. So I put that on the back burner and started to think about other things to raise.

Then, a miracle. In an old cedar stump -- the tree went down in Katrina -- a wild hive arrived. I watched it for a few months, and then decided to undertake what many say you shouldn't do: try to recover a wild hive out of a tree. I read accounts online of people who had to cut down large sections of the tree, split it open, and then try to remove the hive. It sounded like a lot of walk, but I prepared myself for the undertaking. First, I ordered the gear (hat, gloves, overalls, liquid smoke). Then I built a hive. I decided to to with what's called a Kenya top bar hive. This is an ancient have form that is quite easy to build. Though it doesn't yield as much as stacked hives with supers and all that, I managed to assemble the entire thing for only $1.09. I had lots of lumber lying around.

Then I went after the hive. Again I got lucky. The termites had already eaten convenient entrances for not only the bees, but also for me. All I needed to do was pull away the rotten wood and remove the comb, bees, etc.

These I put into the hive. I put the top on. I plugged the entrance and am now letting them get accustomed to their new home. Supposedly, tomorrow when I open the entrance, they will get the rest of the bees left behind in the ravaged hive to move in with them if I managed to get the queen. I have no idea whether I found her or if she is smooshed back in some corner of the old hive and I totally missed her. I hope it's the former so that I didn't just end up destroying the hive.

What's next for the yard? I think we are going to get some avocados.

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