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14 August 2009

Bees in the backyard

I'm glad our gate was open yesterday because in walked Bob, the bee keeper. I looked up local beekeepers on the web and Bob was set up in the mountains behind us, so I called and told him about our swarm. An hour later he was there with a hive and smoker.

Bob has been keeping bees since he was a teenager, I guess he is around my age, so that's a mighty long time. When you have a swarm of bees, the person you want is someone with experience and common sense. Hanno and I stood back on one side of the garden fence while Bob strode right up to the bee swarm, with no protective clothes on or even the smoker. He had a quiet presence about him and as he worked he explained why bees swarm and what he was doing with them.

Bob said that in Spring, when the queen bee recognises there is another queen in the hive who will soon challenge her, she encourages the bees to eat as much honey as they can and then follow her to establish a new hive. They might have come from a hollow tree as there is some bush clearing happening near us, but most likely from an established hive.

This is one of the drones checking out Hanno's watch. The drones are the male bees that mate with the queen.

The swarm will search for a place that is safe and secure and then the worker bees will set off looking for a place to set up a new hive. If the swarm isn't captured by a bee keeper, it will usually set up in a tree hollow or the roof cavity of a house. When they move to a smaller space they're much harder to capture. Luckily our bees were still happily sun bathing on a small orange tree in our vegetable garden, working with them would be fairly easy.

Bob bringing in the capture hive.

Instead of knocking them all off the tree, Bob wanted the bees to walk onto the hive frame.

Clicking on the photo will enlarge it - Bob had a lot of the bees on the frame.

After patiently holding each frame for the bees to go on it, he was confident the queen was in the hive when the bees started flying in to the hive. Then he put the top on the hive.

When the bees started swarming again, Bob put on his protective hat to stay safe.

After the lid was on the hive it was just a waiting game. I offered Bob a cup of coffee but instead of waiting for all the bees to go into the hive, he asked if he could leave the hive there and come back at nightfall when the hive was settled and quiet.

This is how the hive looked most of the day. The queen was safely in the hive again so the worker bees started the housekeeping, preparing the cells for new eggs to be laid. Bob said this was a priority and they would work on that until everything was right. When they were sure the hive was right for the queen, they would start foraging for pollen and making honey again.

Bob returned when the sun was setting - a true man of the land, he goes by sun up and sun set, rather than by a watch. After he'd checked that most of the bees had settled in for the night, he came in for a coffee and a chat. He told us that he has his many hives set up all over the mountains and bee keepers pay to rent the land their hives stand on. His job is to go around checking that the hives are working well and no one has interfered with them. We told him he could keep some hives at our place but he said it was a bit too far from his other hives. Luckily for us though, he's the secretary of the local bee keepers' association and he said he's sure there are closer bee keepers who would be happy to set some hive with us. We said we didn't want to be paid - we'll prefer to barter the space for a few jars of honey and a bit of wax.

I'll be very happy if that happens. Not only will we get pure raw honey it will also give us all the bees we need to pollinate our plants. And I really like the idea of having bees working away in our home. It may be a romantic idea but I think that bees need all the help they can get right now. There is trouble brewing in the bee world. Colony collapse disorder and virus diseases threaten them so if we can offer a safe haven, I'd be happy.

I'd love to hear from anyone who keeps bees. Please tell me how you started and what's involved in the keeping of bees. Or are you like me and have wanted to keep bees for a long time? If one of the bee keepers does keep hives here, I'm not really sure what we're in for. I doubt we'll have to do anything, except be their guardians but I am excited about the prospect of having bees here and knowing more about how they produce honey.


  1. When I was a child, my Dad kept bees in the orchard. It was my 'job' to go tell the bees all the news, a job I took very seriously aged six. When we moved we could not take the bees with us and left them for the new owners. We never did have our own hive again but a local bee keeper used our new orchard so we still had a good supply of honey. I can still taste that honey.


  2. Well Rhonda,

    I began keeping bees last summer in Maryland, USA. My first attempt was not successful due to an incredibly dry summer with no forage for the bees, and they didn't make it through the winter. I'm trying again this summer, and have 2 hives going like gangbusters now. I'm hoping they do well, and the neighbors are looking forward to honey as well!

    Good luck with your new tenants!

  3. Hi Rhonda,
    My dad is a beekeeper (as a hobby) and we always had hives in our backyard. We rarely got stung, even when we were young kids running around crazily probably driving them mad.

    Having "real" honey is the BEST!!!! It tastes so different to shop-bought honey. I still can't eat that stuff, only dad's honey. My dad has moved to Tanzania for four years to set up a school. Is it selfish to hope that when/if he visits he has time to rob the bees so we don't go without honey? =) We have enough left for a couple of months.

    From what I can remember the things you need are: protective clothes/hat/gloves, long thick socks, a smoker, hives, a special hand-turned machine to spin the honey from the frames, lots and lots of jars. I'm sure there are LOTS more.

    I remember getting the letter one day and there was a little box in the letter box. Dad opened it up and there was a queen bee inside =) Yes, you can order them through the post!!!

    I look forward to hearing whether or not you end up with bees living with you. I KNEW you'd say you would prefer to barter over being paid. We used honey as payment for things, as well as for Christmas presents etc.

    Take care,

  4. Hi Rhonda,
    What a fascinating Story thanks for sharing this with us in photo's too, I have just enjoyed showing my 5yo daughter the pictures and explaining the process to her. She was much better able to appreciate it with the photos and she looked as in awe as I felt reading about why and how the bees are moving.

  5. Hi Rhonda Jean :) I enjoyed this so much! My little ones will love this story - we will read it together tomorrow morning.

    Jamie's father is a bee keeper, and we have a wonderful time helping him harvest. He raises his bees in his apple orchard, and the honey is scrumptious! Love & hugs, Q

  6. Loved this story! My son keeps bees in my back yard and I have no problems.


  7. What a terrific story! I am so glad you were able to capture the bees and will now be able to enjoy some wonderful honey.
    We called a bee keeper to take bees from our crab apple tree a few years ago..there were what seemed like thousands of bees...they actually weighted down one of the branches so much that we were afraid it would break off. The man who came for them did use the knock method of dropping them into a large container.
    He was happy to take the bees away for us. That year we had several folks call about bee swarms...I can't recall exactly what the bee keeper said but it is caused by too many queens or the old queen aging.
    Thanks you for those great photos too.

  8. What a great post and so interesting, I don't know the first thing about bees so can't contribute. Have a great weekend Rhonda.

  9. My grandfather was a beekeeper for many many years, and when he passed away my father inherited all of his boxes and equipment. He started up once he purchased his retirement project (160 acres of land). Typical the honey in my part of Canada is made from Alfalfa/clover and it tastes great. I couldn't tell you how it was done though - I only watched occasionally and helped turn the spinny thing over heat a few times when it was ready to harvest.

    We're not allowed to have bees in the city, but I think the city should allow a few hives scattered around to help pollinate things. I do have a case of NIMBYism though. My daugher has an anaphalactic reaction to stings.

  10. Well done, Rhonda! This is really exciting, and thanks for sharing it with us.

    Our neighbors-across-the-street, who also own a large market garden and sell at the local farmers markets, have two hives on their property. The hives are maintained by a lady who gives them free honey when she harvests. Good for our neighbors' garden, and good for them, and good for her. :-) We'd love to get a hive at some point since we have a lot of wildflowers, and have talked about starting a plantation of lavendar, but we have no idea of how to maintain a hive.

    Anyway, thanks for this. I love your blog so much. :-)

  11. That was very informative! Thank you! I eventually want a bee hive, but I want to use Top-Bar hives.

  12. I just took an intro class about bees last week from a gentleman who has been keeping hives for 40 years. I was totally fascinated. I can't do bees as my husband is allergic to them (at least some bees, not sure about the honey bees, but can't take chances). One interesting fact is that if you have pollen type allergies, eat local honey. I had never thought of that, but it makes sense as it builds up your resistance.

  13. I've never kept bees but have heard that if you do, put the hives so that their 'flight path' is not where you need to walk. They need water too, but it needs to be very shallow and easy to get out of the water, eg a bird-bath filled with rough pebbles. And of course it is important to tell your bees all the news -- a lovely old custom.

  14. Wonderful you got hold of someone, I was sure there would be someone close by to you in your area. It always amazes me how many people are into it. I have had several swarms collected from my house in town and Bruce did it the same way as Bob did. He just left the box sit there and came back in the evening as the bees settles. We have had several big scale production honey makers leave many hives on our farm, all we do is make sure that they are not disturbed an in return get the most amazing honey.
    I think I might actually give Bruce a ring and ask if I can go out and look at his hives as I have always been interested in it, this has given me some incentive to do that.
    Bruce sounds just like Bob, a very calm person, maybe if I have bees some of the calmness will rub off onto me?!

  15. How cool is that? Wow! I've been doing a little bit of reading about beekeeping lately...I'm not as sure about it as I was about chickens. But it's still a possibility. I like the idea of letting someone "rent" space for their bees on your property...and your idea to barter is perfect! Hmmm...I wonder if anyone around here does that? I'll have to do a bit more research! Good luck with this endeavor...sounds ideal!

  16. I'm didn't get to keep the swarm found in your yard?...I would've thought that was a good place to start with having your own hives. Or is the swarm the bee man's payment for coming and doing the job?

    I don't know anything about keeping bees, but it's on my to-do list for my garden.

    My neighbour has some native bee hives in old tree limbs around his yard, he's an arborist with the local council, and 'rescues' all the native bee hives that are in trees that have to be cut down or trimmed.

    They're very tiny, little black blobs that I see hanging around my flowers and veggies sometimes. I like that he is concerned for the bees, and will put a tree cutting job on hold to make sure the bees are ok....a good kind of neighbour to have.

    I look forward to more bee stories, Rhonda....never a dull moment around your place :)



  17. I would love to set up a habitat for native bees in my vege patch - one day mayhap. Diversity is a wonderous thing.

  18. We're not keeping bees purposefully, but there's a hive in a tree in our front yard. It made it through last winter's snow and ice (which was unusually severe for the Willamette Valley), and is still doing fine. I kind of wish that we had access to the honey, but I'm sure glad of the bees for my garden!

  19. What a fun and informative post! I really appreciate that you are sharing such great stuff with us all!

  20. I don't know much about bees but have been thrilled to see many around this summer. I know they have been struggling. We also learned that local honey helps with allergies. Since my husband struggles with seasonal allergies this has been helpful information.

    Becky K.

  21. Oh you lucky duck!
    Just think of all that honey and wax! *smile*

  22. How wonderful that you love nad respect them. Rhonda I call my garden blog Bee Bliss because around here folk just kill bees. It is terrible! We have some Africanized hives that can kill a man and has done so a few times and dogs too. Oh But I do love the wonderful little creatures. Thank you for your care of them.
    In Arizon USA there is a wonderful woman who sells up in Pine/Strawberry above Payson.

  23. Hi Rhonda!
    I read your post this morning my time (USA)and typed a comment but it didn't go through. It was the post before this one. Anyway, I was so excited about the bees. My husband and I are beekeepers and we love it! I have a blog site if you or anyone else is interested..
    We've only been keeping bees a little over a year now and we still have so much to learn. We've talked to beekeepers that have been keeping them for 20-30 years plus and they say there's always something new to learn about the bees. We have them in our yard and it is so neat to watch the activity coming and going from the hives....I call it our bee highway. Sometimes if we cross their path we get hit but not stung. They are traveling so fast and don't even see you until it's too late. It's funny to watch them after they hit, it's almost like where did you come from and get out of my way I'm on a mission! My blog isn't anything special I just share the experiences that we've had with them, I don't claim to know everything about them or know all of the answers, just experience.
    So drop by if you fancy a look...
    OBTW I love your blog,

  24. I am so glad you posted about this. The bees are in danger, not just in the US but in all countries. To be a true steward of the land people need to realize how vital the bees are to all living things.

    If you are interested in raising bees or I should say keeping them, search the net, great info there. You can probably buy, or barter, for the necessary equipment to get started. It takes a lot of joy out of trying something after putting a lot of money out, to discover you either don't like it, it's too much commitment or it's really not as much fun as you had thought.

    Mary Janes Farm, a fun magazine for farm girls published in the US, has a great website. Each issue, bi-monthly, is dedicated to mostly one thing. 3 issues ago was dedicated to the honey bees. I think the most relevant and great article was about a mother and daughter in Italy and the effect the dwindling honey bees have on their lives.

    I digress, sorry! I hope if/when you do start that you let us all know. I love the idea of renting your garden out for barter. What a great idea. It sounds like a great way to learn as well.

    Good luck and thanks for being so responsible...Elaine in Texas

  25. My husband recently told me we needed to either get chickens or bees for in the backyard (we live in the city!) As we rent our house, I think we're leaning more towards bees. But, being in the heart of the city, I'm a little leary. We'll have to see.

    Please keep us posted on your new "hobby".

  26. I would love to keep bees it isn't only viruses that are killing our bees or destroying the hives. In the past 2 weeks quite a few hives have been destroyed here by sensless vandals. For the life of me I can't fathom people like that out. We need the hives here because we live in the heart of kiwifruit country.

  27. I've got bees and it isn't as hard as you would think to keep them.
    We got ours from a load of willow logs delivered to us for firewood. One had a hive inside it. We know the local bee keeper so asked if he could help us rehouse this hive. He chainsawed open the log of wood the hive was in and put the honey comb into a box for us but couldn't find the queen. The next day the bees were all clustered into one area, so I doned a raincoat and gloves and used an icecrean container to scrap the pile of bees off their log and into the honey comb filed box. It worked. We now had a hive.
    After that we did a bit of research and purchased a proper box for the hive with plastic frames so that we could harvest honey too. They don't produce a lot of honey as there isn't an abundance of flowers and pollen where the hive is, but it is more than enough for us and the bees. I only need to check on them a few times a year as we aren't troubled varoa mite and other bee nasties. I enjoy watching my little hive. It is three years old now and I've slowly been building up bee friendly herbs and shrubs for them. Get some books out of the library and ask if there is a local bee keeping club in your area. I know you'd love to have your own hive.

  28. I have close friends here on the Darling Downs who are bee-keepers and provide us with wonderful honey at a really budget price. I was away at a friends and ate supermarket honey for the first time in ages - just ordinary really. I love having my pure honey on crumpets for breakfast - yum!

  29. i'm amazed that the bees know just what to do, and the man also. very interesting. i love bees

  30. Hi Rhonda, its taken me this long to sit down and read now both of your posts. When we got home from the beach someone had taken out a power pole and we were without power for the next 24 hours.
    I would love to keep bees as well as have an aquaponics fish farm in my "dream home"
    You can add a goat and then all of my chooks and kids too. I love to read your blogs and think about what may one day be the same for me.
    Thanks, Melissa

  31. I started learning about bee-keeping in Yemen. Yemen has the best honey in the world. You will pay $100 for a 250gm jar.
    THey still use all traditional methods for keeping the bees and have the hives in the isolated rugged areas of Yemen. The bees are quite aggressive though! last summer they killed some donkeys that were walking by!

  32. HI Rhonda Jean

    I am so excited for you! That hive may produce up to 40 lbs of honey for YOU a year. This could easily start to replace butter usage in baking, on toast, etc. And again, think of the self-reliance in it all! :D

    Did you ask Bob where you and Hanno could find out more information on honey and wax making being that he is the secretary of the association? Beyond that, I would check out your local library. If you find a fantastic book then you know that is THE book to actually buy.

    Additionally, there may be some 'videos' about bee keeping on youtube dot come. There's nothing like seeing visuals to put things into clearer view.

    Good luck!!!


  33. What fantastic photos Rhonda! what a gentle & knowledgable man too :o)
    An ambition of mine is to have bees one day,I need a wee bit more time on my hands though so when the smalls are a little bit older.
    It will be great if you can have someone keep their hives in your garden!
    GTM x x x

  34. I love honey but am allergic to bees. My nieghbour used to keep hives but after several stings over a few weeks he kindly abandoned them as my reactions were getting worse with each sting. I try to eat local honey as it does seem to help with my allergies.

    I wish you well with the new adventure.

  35. Rhonda, we had 13 hives delivered last month! We're just guardians, as you describe - providing a sheltered spot and lots of blossoms in return for some honey.

    It's a great way to learn about bees!

  36. I'm looking forward to seeing the progress on the bees Rhonda! We've been thinking about bee keeping for a while now. I think this would be a great learning experience for 2 of my boys. Not too long ago we had lots of bee visitors for a couple days. I wish I would have known I could do this then!



  37. My husband and I have two hives. This is our first year with them. Be prepared to be distracted from your outside chores because you will be preoccupied watching the bees do theirs.

    Here are just a few facts I found interesting about the drones (male bees).

    The drones have no stingers. They do no work in the hive. Their sole purpose is to mate but they do not mate with the queen from their own hive.

    If you have any questions about beekeeping I would be happy to answer them if I can.

    Good luck with your bees. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do ours.

  38. we keep bees here in the UK. Its easier for me to direct you to our bee blog at We've even put little videos on there!

    But happy to help with any specific questions you may have

    Your blog is a recent discovery and I've spent quite some time reading - what an inspiration!Thank you for sharing.

    I gather you asked for others to leave their blog details so our main one is at the bottom

  39. OOOOOOH! That is great! That wonderful family of bees will be sure to pollinate your gardens and trees...and pure honey is incomparable once you've tasted it... It's nice that they have a safe little place to make a home in your backyard. I hope you get some more pictures- they are so fascinating to watch. They are good teachers too... nothing inspires me to work harder than a bee. Imagine buzzing around constantly without getting tired?
    I've actually been thinking a couple bee hives would nice in our own backyard- we certainly have the space! Thanks for the post- hope you'll update more about them! :D :D

  40. I just read A Spring Without Bees by Michael Schacker and learned tons about colony collapse disorder. I highly recommend it, but prepare to be outraged. Of course it made me want to keep bees, but people in my family have allergies, so I think it's best not to. I do hope that you get to have some so I can live vicariously through you.

  41. Hi Rhonda

    It was just this week that my dh and I decided to get a hive. We are looking at prices now and training. I am a little nervous as I am allergic to them but we are still very keen.

    How nice that yours just came to you like this!

  42. What an interesting post this was. Whilst not a beekeeper myself (I think I have too excitable a temperament!) we used to have several hives on our top field, kept by Steve, our builder. We were paid in honey and I have to say, a honey rent is well worth having!

  43. Reminds me of the rhyme "a swarm of bees in May is worth of load of hay, a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly. I guess you have the something similar down under !

  44. Fascinating!!!!!

    Central Illinois

  45. Thank you for an interesting post. I enjoyed learning more about bees --- and your garden is beautiful!

  46. Rhonda, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your buzzing bee blog!!IWhen i was in my early teens I loved it when the bee men would arrive in their old truck late at night to place the beehives in our almond orchard, which signalled that work was about to begin for all those worker bees.. then my mum would make batch after batch of pikelets for the mens supper into the wee early hours of the morning.

    THen I realised that I was reading a very apt book called "The secret life of bees" by Sue Kidd which was released as a film last year but i havent seen it yet!! It's a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.. the study and behaviour of bees has been woven so carefully into this novel which is a wonderful read for all your reading bloggers!! Its a very deep novel revealing human hurt, forgiveness and love...! Easy to read though! I am sure you could find it at your public library or order in on interlibrary loan.

    Must buzz off now to have a cuppa with my younguns!!

    Lynette from Adelaide

  47. When I was about 10 the neighbor boy showed me a bee tree in a field and we sat in front of it and got covered in bees! Then a few years ago I was in the yard and a swarm came through ,I was in a sea of slow moving bees ,it was incrediable. it felt like magic.
    I would love to have a hive but my husband doen't see bees in the same way. Anyway we have lots of bees to polinate our garden as a near farmer rents hives for his crops every summer ,then I go and buy my honey from the beekeeper so I am getting my own honey actually!
    Good news from michigan in the USA our beekeeper says his bees are coming back better than ever after loosing a bunch to all the problems a few years ago, he has never been very concerned about it to begin with actually and he says this year has been his best ever, he is a very calm man DO the bees make a person calm???

  48. You are one lucky lady! I wish that would happen here for us. I would love it! Enjoy your fresh honey and beeswax! :)

  49. What a great post and story! I love cooking with honey and hope you get your bees in the backyard!


  50. Wanted to let you know that YOU were my inspiration for becoming a beekeeper. I've been reading your site for a couple of years, and I'm very inspired by your choices. I'm taking baby steps to a simpler, more meaningful and satisfying life. Chickens were my goal, but I thought I'd start smaller--with a bee hive. That was in spring 2008. Now I'm up to three hives. I love the social aspect of the hive.

    Thanks for your inspiration. Life is beautiful.

  51. last year a swarm moved into an old wine barrel just outside my boyfriends back door, i really liked having them but he is allergic.
    one night i woke up at about 2 in the morning because a bee had stung me in bed, well after her bed time!

    after that we had to get rid of them because it was too risky having them so close to the door, i looked for ages for a bee keeper but couldnt find one, so we ended up waiting till they went to bed, corked the barrel and drove it out to his parents property and put them up the back of their hundred acres. wish we could have got some honey

    regards, rizzy


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