Backwoods Bees

When I was a kid in Kasilof, Alaska, there was a honey store about a mile down the road. We’d pedal down there, present our quarter, and get a sample of honey such that I’ve not tasted since.  This year, as we move onto our off-grid property and make an attempt at becoming more self sufficient, we decided to add bee keeping…just to upkeep the ‘crazy’ status we’ve gained around town.  It sounded fun, provided a basic necessity for our family, and we knew absolutely nothing about it….so it was pretty much fit the bill of how we do things around here.

I perused the internet, found a site called Alaska Honey and talked to a woman named Sarah, who owns the company.  Turns out, Sarah (located in Kenai) is not only the ‘bees knees’ when it comes to hiving knowledge, but she also loves to share that knowledge with newby’s like me!  Sarah invited me over to see her woodshop where she builds hives, sold me a starter kit (and with how much time she puts into them, she can’t be making any money), and gave me a freebie lesson on starter beekeeping, including her cell number in case I had trouble. That was her first mistake…

The whole swarm moves as you tilt the box, in one big mass...

I ordered a five pound box of bees shipped in from Washington, picked them up on Friday night, and brought home my new pets. (Destini was not impressed with the buzzing box of stingers that spent the night on the bathroom counter.)

Saturday morning, coffee in  hand, Billy and I loaded up the bees, gathered supplies along with Sarah’s instructions, and headed up to our cabin property where the bees would make their home.

Here’s something I learned about bees. Probably everyone else in the world already knew this… But, bees cannot be moved once they are hived.  Apparently, they map their location in such exact detail for up to a four mile radius, that if you moved the hive ten feet away they would die in a heap where they last saw their hive.  So, unless you plan to move them more than six miles away, they should be placed initially in their permanent residence. Good to know.

While handling the sugar bags, I got some on me...this makes me nervous...

Billy and I picked a spot on your property that was quite a ways from our cabin, yet easily accessible.  I slipped the bee hat over my head, duct taped every possible opening in my clothing and prayed my three pair of pants and puffy shirts would keep me pain free.  Billy did the same, minus the bee hat, and loudly and repeatedly reminded me he is allergic to bees and swells up like the Stay-puff Marshmallow Man when stung.  Wimp.

We set up the box on a flat area in the woods.  The hive consists of several important layers, none of which I know the name or purpose of, and so I called Sarah to make sure they were in the right order. It didn’t made sense to me that the bottom is nothing more than a screen. Honey is liquid.  It seems as if in the Fall I’ll lift my box to find all the honey has dripped down into the earth.  But she assured me it was correct and so we proceeded.

The queen is inside that tiny box...the bees are very excited to see her.

First, I pulled the feeding can from the travel box to get to the queen.  This is when panic began, because as soon as I polled that feeding can out of the hole, the bees came at me like canon fire.  I then had to release the queen bee from her tiny hotel box within the bee box.  She has a bit of wax covering a hole to keep her in and the bees will release her over the next couple of days. I put her onto the frames (hanging file style boards the bees build their honeycombs on) along with two Ziplocks of sugar water to get them started.

And then, contrary to every instinct in my body, I dumped the bees out into the hive.

Thank God for three layers of thick clothing. I look puffy...but I'm safe!

Now, somewhere around this point I’m pretty sure I blacked out.  Billy says he could tell I was freaking out because…well…because I was calm.  I’m rarely quiet, so he knew something was wrong.  He later told me my hands were moving like lightening and all advice that had been given me about relaxing, not showing fear, and taking it slow…went right out the window when those bees swarmed my face. I don’t even remember half of this.

I dumped, dumped, dumped bees, shaking the box around and trying not to damage the merchandise.  When I thought I had most of them out, I put the box down, layered the covers in the appropriate order, and strapped it tight to keep the bears from breaking into my stash, all while reminding myself there was a purpose to the insanity.

We brushed the bees from my body with a little swishy broom, I did a wiggly dance to make sure they were all gone, and we loaded up into the car.  I called Sarah to tell her things had gone well and she instructed us to turn around and go back, because we’d left the shipping box, with quite a few bees, laying on the ground by the hive. Apparently the bees who did not make it in the initial dumping may not make it into the hive because they still smell their queen in the shipping box.  We whipped around, crawled back into our duct tape safety, and traipsed back into the woods.

The queen is in that tiny box on the left corner, already engulfed in her bees...

I lifted the lid to dump the rest of the bees, but in the few minutes since we’d left them, the bees had already attached themselves to the lid.  As I’d squashed many of them the first time I dropped the lid into place, we chose not to dump any more inside the hive…didn’t want to damage the merchandise.

This is what Billy looked like when I told him it was HIS turn...
This is Billy doing what his mommy says...
And this is Billy running away...

This time, I held the camera while Billy, feeling brave and manly, shook the remainder of the bees out on the hives ‘front porch’.  And then he ran like a scared little girl when one bee landed on his shoulder.  Wimp.  Minutes later, the bees were already making their way into the entrance in an awesome display of loyalty to their queen.  Wish my minions were that loyal.

Faithful minions seeking their queen...

I texted Sarah to let her know…as if she cared…that all had gone as planned and nobody had been stung or died a horrible death, other than a few unlucky bees I swatted in terror.

And so now we wait for the next step…though I’m not even sure what that is.  I’ll have to call Sarah to find out.




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16 Replies to “Backwoods Bees”

  1. I have a friend who has hives, and I babysit the hives on occasion – at my place.  Have one parked in the yard right now.  I am not allergic, and I know that they don’t WANT to sting….  but still I keep a respectful distance.

  2. “Bee’s knees”  Really?

    LMAO at you. You are fearless. Especially when leading your children into danger. Hope you have as much fun getting your honey as I do reading your blog. I am curious though, are there lots of food sources for your bees in the area? Wildflowers and all?

    Never a dull moment….

  3. Hahaha, this is awesome.  You rock, but now I’m pretty sure you’re insane…I can get my head around a lot of things, but beekeeping…not one of them 😉

  4. are you sure you’re not doing this just to keep your blog readers supplied with suspense filled drama and a good chuckle? I so enjoy your blog posts.. Thanks for so openly sharing your life experiences!

  5. My bosses used to paint the “supers” (boxes) white, but that may not be necessary.  I share your concern about bears.  It would be easy for them to tear up a super and steal all the honey in the frames.  B TW, the bees seal or cap the top of each hexagonal cell.  That’s why the honey doesn’t run out.  Good luck.

  6. Excellent stuff.  My wife keeps bees and they’re fascinating.  One thing to bear in mind is that unlike wasps, bees will die if they sting you – so it’s an absolute last resort to them.  They don’t want to sting you any more than you want to damage them.

    Easy to say when you haven’t got a bit of net separating you from 20 thousand buzzy things, I know 🙂 

    Good luck with it, I hope you’re savoring your first honey crop before the year is out.

  7. You’re a brave brave woman, Keri! I had a colony of bees take up residence in an old stucco mail box structure and it was at the base of our shared driveway. Our neighbors weren’t keen on driving by an active hive every day so I rallied friends to come help me move it after we tried killing the hive (I know bad, bad, bad…) which didn’t work…and 4 of us couldn’t lift the darn thing it was so heavy w/bees/comb/honey and the structure itself. We ended up tipping it on its side onto a tarp and dragging the whole lot off into the shrubs about 10 ft. away. That’s as far as we could muster our strength lol  They seemed to have handled the move and it was pretty awesome to see all those bees and honeycomb in there when we had it tipped. Looking up from the bottom we could see about 4 layers of comb. So amazing!! I think that was as much bee wrangling as I’d ever want to do again, though! Good luck with your new project!!

  8. As I sat hear dying of laughter my (paramedic) husband asked me what was so funny, I explained to him how Billy was helping you all the while reminding you he is allergic to bees. My husbands joking response while laughing “She’s trying to kill him off that’s all, boy should have listened better!”
    Lol thanks for the laughs!

  9.  Pretty sure I couldn’t have done it…and I KNOW my kids wouldn’t have helped if I had.  Congratulations on owning a hive.  Enjoy the honey.  But how, exactly, does strapping a wooden hive down keep bears out of it?  I’d think if a bear wanted honey bad enough, breaking wood…strapped down or not…wouldn’t be much of a challenge.  Just curious.  🙂

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