I’ve worked with bees for almost fifty years, raising queens, pollinating crops, making oodles of honey. I grew up in a beekeeping family (so my 50 years started really early). Over that long time period, I worked for some really good beekeepers. But, somehow, I failed to learn everything there is to know. This year really proved that. Over the next few blog posts, we’ll look at what happened to our little backyard beehive.
We (a family decision) decided to bring a hive into the back yard here at our home in Calgary. Until now – except for a couple of years back in the ’90s – I hadn’t kept bees in the big city. Instead, my hives were rural. That was nice – it forced me to drive out into the countryside to beekeep, giving me some pastoral reality. But this spring, in late June, I parked a nuc in our yard, metres away from the deck.
Since I’d not had a hive at my home for a long while, I wanted a tiny hive. A weak hive. A queenless hive. A pathetic little cluster of bees that my teenagers and I could examine from time to time. Our little hive was a big hit with the kids. My 15-year-old was smitten by the bee bug . He and I particularly enjoyed our bee sessions.
Because it was a single and very weak colony, it seemed like a puppy or a toddler. Sweet, innocent, fragile. In fact, this little hive (population 5,000) was remarkably gentle. The bees refused to sting me, even when I deserved it. That made it especially nice to show my kids. So far, so good.
It may surprise you that I opted for a queenless nuc. My idea was that the bees would raise their own queen, giving my kids and I something especially interesting to watch. By late July, the new queen would be laying, the hive would build up, we’d winter it and have a slightly stronger colony to observe next year.
To get my hive, I drove to my daughter’s farm, over an hour from Calgary. Her husband pulled a few frames of brood, bees, and honey. These went into my new hive. To transport the bees home in my van, we slipped the nuc into a very large black plastic bag. (If you’ve never tried this trick, I’ve written about the procedure here.) I returned to Calgary and my teenager set the nuc in place that evening, pulling the box out of its bag.
We thought we were set for an exciting year of miniature beekeeping. Tomorrow, I’ll describe the nuc’s first few weeks and I’ll tell you the names we considered bestowing upon the puppy/toddler/nuc. And why I’m glad that we didn’t actually name the poor little thing.