Friday, August 21, 2015

How I Got Stung

When I brought my first batch of honey bees home–the buzzing box headed for my backyard on a warm night in May–I was skeptical that my new hobby made any sense. Would my bees starve? Would they get sick? Would they annoy my neighbors?

Luckily, and by this point, I had been working part time for a bee removal company for a couple months, so I was somewhat seasoned by the job. And upon joining a local beekeepers club, I discovered both bees and urban beekeepers were multiplying in Prescott and the quad-city area. I also learned bees in a small backyard, such as mine, amongst the houses, schools and churches, have just as good a chance as anywhere else to thrive. Neighborhood trees, my giant Pyracantha bush, the neighbor's Russian Sage and any overgrown yards provide enough nectar and pollen–not to just sustain my bees throughout this summer season–but to score me some of their surplus honey!

My closest neighbors hardly noticed how busy the hive situated only 60 feet from their house became, even after I added a honey super (where the bees but the honey as opposed to eggs). In fact, they welcomed my bees when I first told them about it. They were only reminded again of my hive with a gift of bee goodness (honey) I gave them across the fence on Tuesday.

Jumping back to my bee removal job, I get asked a lot: “How did I decide to do this type of work?” Truth be told, there was no “Eureka!” moment, but I believe the Universe must have been dropping seeds here and there, starting with a home exchange I did in Sweden last fall 2014. My friends there were beekeepers, foodies and artists, and owned an art gallery called Honey Gallery in Bromma, Stockholms Lan. The apartment I lived in was next to allotment gardens, which I strolled through most days to appreciate the precious undiscovered glory that is life: birds, bees, moths, butterflies, flowers, apple trees, wild deer and the people that nurtured it.

Another invisible seed was dropped early 2015 while visiting the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office armed with a couple gardening questions. They gave me a local beekeepers and master gardener's business card and said to call them. So I called Cliff, and he and his wife, Nancy, invited me to their property in Prescott Valley for a show-n-tell. I cannot remember now how the conversation went, but Cliff and I got into bee suits and headed out to the yard where all the hive boxes where buzzing and see how comfortable I was handling frames full of bees, honeycomb and honey. I was comfortable, and so I had to know more...

Things started to really change when I found myself casually interviewing for a job with Cliff's company, Last Shadow Apiary, in his kitchen that I had no plans for. But life as it so happens, has a funny way of sometimes bringing the right path to you even if you are too oblivious to head down it on your own. After apprenticing on four bee removal calls end of February/March, it was in April that I signed a contract with Cliff and started getting calls to remove and relocate bee swarms and hives from water boxes on my own. I travel all around Prescott, and the quad-city area, performing this noble service. I have my own bee suit and all the necessary equipment needed to capture/remove the bees kept in the back of my car. I can feel the spirits of generations of bees emanating a loud buzz as I drive down the road and turn them over to Cliff's. He keeps as many batches of bees as possible and puts them into vertical stacking hive boxes in his bee yard and then re-queens them so they are less aggressive (long story short).

I had never understood just how interesting bees were, but through Cliff's generosity and sharing his life-long knowledge of bees that I learned the ins and outs of keeping a bee hive, honey bee anatomy, procuring a new queen and how to handle her, and the most exciting part to me at this stage: harvesting the honey. What I revel in most now is located under a native Juniper tree in dappled light in my own backyard: the opportunity I have took for myself to have my own hive of honey bees for real! I wanted more than just an occasional purchase of agave nectar I was using for my various baking projects; I deeply desired the real deal with all it's fantastic nutrients from live cultures: the pollen, bee bread, honey in the wax, and the raw honey itself. Luckily, it has all been successful, as I continue to feel at ease working outdoors, being connected to the natural world in this special way and having a real sense of home in Prescott. Bees are such magical creatures that they do so much for us and ask for so little in return.

Looking ahead at 2016, I might expand my home apiary to 2 hives and maybe start to offer hive setup and management for other people too: restaurants, animal sanctuaries, urban farms, ranches and even a bee yard on the Prescott-Yavapai Indian reservation—why not? While putting a “maybe” and an “I might” in front of this last sentence, I find myself evolving as I go along trying to decide what works best in the context of my lifestyle and for the bees. It is also my hope that after you've read this (and maybe other parts of my blog) that you'll grow confident in your own wild and crazy plans like I did! Love, Sharon

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