I’ve always been enamored of bees. I love when they buzz around me in the garden, and always stop to admire their fuzzy, colorful bodies. I’d suggested multiple times over the years that Worthy get a hive, and my boss finally relented this past winter. It was exciting and terrifying, as all new things are, and I don’t really think I knew what I was getting into at that point. After getting the green light in January, I promptly discovered I would have to order my bees by February and be ready to receive them in May. That sounds like a lot of time, but when you’re also planning your upcoming gardening season and scheduling club events, IT’S NOT.
So I started attending local beekeeping meetings and enrolled in bee school. Yes, there is a thing called bee school and I highly recommend you check it out if you’re thinking of getting a hive. The countdown started after I ordered my package of Carniolan bees from Lidell’s Honey, set to arrive on May 6th. I purchased all the recommended books, ordered my equipment, found a beehive (on Craigslist of all places), and still felt unequivocally inept. Because you can read and read and read, but nothing compares to physically executing a new skill. And my first test? Shaking a package full of agitated bees into a strange, new, larger box while hoping they don’t abscond immediately from any number of factors - it’s too loud, it’s too new, it smells weird, they’re annoyed, they just don’t like it. But I underestimated the power of the queen pheromone. After successfully executing the bee installation (with compliments, I must say), I came into work the next morning to find my clump of bees creepily huddled around the caged queen in the corner of the hive. Yessssss! My first success!
Two days later, I opened the hive to make sure the queen had been released via a marshmallow plug that worker bees chewed their way through (though I heard later that gummy bears work better), and voila! The queen was out and my bees were in business.
1st Mistake: After my first inspection a couple weeks in, I was convinced my queen had not survived. I was impressed that my bees were already making honey, but I didn’t see any brood. Nope…wrong. Those were brood cells, not honey cells, my mentor/savior Allen pointed out to me after I begged him to come over for a second opinion. Well, I felt dumb. Especially since I had panicked and already ordered another queen, and that queen had been living on my kitchen counter for a couple days, homeless and bored, under the watchful eye of my cat. Luckily, Allen bought her off me for one of his own hives.
2nd Mistake: I’m going to admit it. I broke a comb. Top bar hives are notorious for being difficult for beginners to handle, as the combs are only supported by a top bar, not a fully squared-in frame typical in Langstroth hives. But I had watched beekeepers handle top bar combs by keeping them on a vertical plane while maneuvering, and was confident I could do it. Not. The comb broke off the bar and fell into the hive. Luckily, it was only a few inches square, and just slightly filled with nectar. I panicked, the bees didn’t, and I ended just removing it and feeling really terrible about making the bees start over. That is, until I saw this video. Go ahead and fast forward to minute 1:40.
Most of the rest of the summer passed without incident. My bees flourished and proved to be a docile bunch, my mite checks were low, no customers got stung, and we received absolutely no negative feedback for having a hive in a public space (which perhaps surprised me the most). I, in fact, only got stung once when I picked up a bee barehanded that I thought was dead in the feeding chamber. Turns out she was not dead and had just enough left to lay down her last defense. But good news - I learned I was not allergic to honey bees that day.
Now, as winter begins to creep in, I’m approaching my last season as a first-year beekeeper. What did I learn other than the fact that I still have so much to learn?
Get connected with your local beekeepers! I cannot stress this enough. If you are a new beekeeper, they will be your best resource when anything weird or troubling pops up. Allen saved my life and sanity no less than three times this year. Experienced beekeepers have years of knowledge that they’re happy to dispense onto newbies, from feeding techniques to mite treatments to winterizing the hive. And club meetings provide the most relevant information for your area. Beekeeping methods are not the same across the board, so you have to know what works for your climate/biome and what doesn’t. If you live in Central Oregon, check out COBKA’s monthly meetings. The open hive inspections are particularly helpful.
Be prepared to respectfully defend honey bees. You will get people who are either 1) legitimately worried about getting stung, especially if they’re allergic, 2) ignorant about honey bee behavior, or 3) confused about the difference between honey bees and wasps or yellow jackets. You must be able to explain that honey bees only sting in defense, and as long as you don’t mess with their hive, you should be fine. I had more pushback from Worthy employees than the public about this, but I’m glad to say they all heeded my advice and their fear has been replaced with cautious curiosity.
Suit up and work on your chill. As a new beekeeper, you’re going to make mistakes during hive inspections, and there’s nothing worse than the combination of low confidence in skill + under preparedness + a jarring reaction to a mishap. Wearing a veil, gloves, and suit (at least to begin with) makes you feel more comfortable and in control when something does go wrong and less likely to make a bad situation worse. Always remember to stay calm, move slowly and deliberately, and be aware of the vibe in the hive. You’ll be able to tell when the energy in the hive picks up. If you need to step back mid-inspection and give both your bees and yourself a break, do it.
At least research what natural beekeeping is before deciding to be hands-off. Like gardeners, a beekeeper’s life is often romanticized. Some people believe they can just purchase a hive, put it in their back yard, watch the bees do their thing, and only get into the hive to collect honey. But unintrusive does not equal “natural” or “organic.” Human impacts on beekeeping have exacerbated pest and disease problems that must be addressed at some level. And this is where the two factions of beekeeping collide: to treat or not to treat. Treating for pests and diseases obviously improves the health and longevity of your colony, but it also allows “weak” genes to continue down the line. Not treating draws upon the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest,” where only the most resistant and hardy colonies pull through, improving survival genetics but also exposing nearby bees - both wild and managed - to an array of contagions in the meantime. Treatment-free, or natural, beekeeping generally requires heavy involvement as well as a deep understanding of bee biology. Putting a hive out in your backyard and thinking that the bees will take care of themselves does not equal organic beekeeping. Know what you’re up against and be aware of the choices you’ll have to make.
Do your mite checks! In line with my previous point, mites are serious pests that at least need to be monitored, especially in the spring and fall when bee populations are most vulnerable. While I have yet to perfect my technique, I still soldier through a sugar roll each month to make sure my bees are not on the verge of collapse - and pray for their forgiveness at my clumsy attempts to get them into a mason jar.
Mark your queen or buy it marked. I am so terrible at finding the queen. I’ve only seen her once after her initial release, though I know she’s in there because I see her eggs. But it would be helpful if I could locate her more easily when I’m doing my mite checks or maneuvering frames around. I’m deathly afraid of accidentally squishing her.
Ask for advice when you need it. This goes along with getting involved with your local beekeeping group. There’s nothing more valuable than advice from experience, especially with time-sensitive problems like mite treatments and dealing with a queenless hive.
Obviously I’m not an expert, but I feel pretty good about making it through my first season as a beekeeper. And maybe you can learn something from my mistakes. In the meantime, I’ll be here still trying to figure out how to flip my frames over without wrecking havoc on the comb.
Incase you missed it, here are some highlights of Worthy Eclipse Week!
Bob Grossfeld: Eclipse Craziness
What is all the fuss about the eclipse? Let’s look at the history of these magical events and see why they are so special. We will take a look at what to expect here in Bend and the surrounding communities. Then look at the best way to view or take pictures of the eclipse.
Roger Worthington: Colonizing Outer Space
Is space travel and colonization an imperative for the survival of the human species? Can we get to the nearest “Goldilocks” planet? Even if we can colonize other planets, should we? What are the costs and benefits? Follow along with the downloadable presentation link below.
Dr. Scott Fisher: Darkness in Daytime
On the morning of August 21, 2017, Central Oregon (and a 60-mile swath across the continental US) witnessed one of nature’s most spectacular events, a total eclipse of the Sun. As the shadow of the Moon moved across the US from Lincoln City, OR to Charleston, SC nearly 50 million people traveled to see this incredible spectacle. Dr. Scott Fisher from the University of Oregon Department of Physics was one of those travelers, he was near Madras taking part working with a team of NASA scientists on eclipse observations.
Before the event, on August 18th, Dr. Fisher gave a spectacular and dazzling public-level talk about the eclipse in conjunction with the Worthy Garden Club and the Hopservatory. In this fun and informative talk Dr. Fisher will explain how eclipses occur, describe what we should expect to see, and talk about how to view the eclipse safely.
We are pleased to announce Worthy Solar Eclipse Week, August 16-21, presented by the Worthy Garden Club. The theme of the special program is “See the Light.”
Starting the third week of August the Worthy Garden Club will be hosting an entire week of educational talks as we anticipate the upcoming total solar Eclipse. Millions of people from all over the world will be gathering on the morning of August 21, 2017 on a 60 mile wide path across the United States, those venturing to the total path will witness a once in a lifetime event.
During this special week Worthy Garden Club will host a variety of local experts in the in the field of Astronomy, History, Hydrogeology, and Humanities. These experts will join us in Bend, Oregon at Worthy Brewing's Hop Mahal.
These special talks start on Wednesday the 16th of August and continue through the end of the week. This will be a week of learning and discovery, each talk will be followed up by open viewing through the Hopservatory telescope from 9-11pm. The WGC "Sky-Guy" Grant Tandy will present a full day of viewing the day prior to the Eclipse.
Education is a Worthy cause, we've got plenty of programs scheduled throughout the coming months to quell your curiosity.
Worthy Eclipse Week Schedule
Eleanor Latham PhD.: Someone Will Save Us, 6:30-7:15pm
Popular culture typically reflects the hopes, fears, and interests of "the ordinary person" in whatever culture is producing the popular work-this is true whether we are looking at Classical Greek Tragedy or Wonder Woman. Science Fiction, once called "Speculative Fiction," is particularly prone to this tendency, since it is not bound by requirements for realism. Science Fiction, of course, includes many sub-genres (such as mutations, science experiment gone wrong, future history, and alternative history). In honor of our current interest in the solar eclipse, I will focus on Science Fiction involving outer space. This talk will examine a few important movies in five categories: 1. Space: The Final Frontier; 2. We're the Good Guys (even when we are the bad guys); 3. Dying Earth; 4. Limits of the Human; and 5. Against All Odds.
Bob Grossfeld: Eclipse Craziness - What's the hoopla all about? 7:30-8:15pm
What is all the fuss about this upcoming eclipse? Let’s look at the history of these magical events and see why they are so special. We will take a look at what to expect here in Bend and the surrounding communities. Then look at the best way to view or take pictures of the eclipse.
Brandon Overstreet, M.S., Ph.D Candidate: Sun and Ice Sheet Rivers - An expedition to measure meltwater production on the Greenland Ice Sheet 6:30-7:15pm
Each summer, melting snow and ice form a complex network of rivers on the Greenland ice sheet. In many ways, these streams behave like temperate rivers in hyperdrive, efficiently carving channels and canyons into the ice surface. Flow in these rivers are highly sensitive to solar irradiation and temperature and accelerated melting on the Greenland ice sheet has led to consistent increases in global sea level. The rivers on the Greenland ice sheet provide efficient conduits for transporting meltwater to the ocean but the amount of water conveyed through these river systems is difficult to measure and not well understood. This talk describes recent expeditions into the interior of the Greenland Ice Sheet to gain intimate view of the relationship between temperature and the behavior of the rivers on the ice surface. The data collected will help refine estimates of meltwater production and sea level rise in the future and shape our shared understanding of global climate change.
Roger Worthington: Colonizing Outer Space - Is it All About Planting the Flag? 7:30-8:15pm
Is space travel and colonization an imperative for the survival of the human species? Can we get to the nearest “Goldilocks” planet? Even if we can colonize other planets, should we? What are the costs and benefits?
Scott Fisher PhD.: Darkness in Daytime – the Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse 7:00pm
On the morning of August 21, 2017, central Oregon (and a 60-mile swath across the continental US) will witness one of nature’s most spectacular events, a total eclipse of the Sun. As the shadow of the Moon moves across the US from Lincoln City, OR to Charleston, SC it is expected that as many as 50 million people will travel to see this incredible spectacle. Dr. Scott Fisher from the University of Oregon Department of Physics will be one of those travelers, he will be near Madras taking part working with a team of NASA scientists on eclipse observations.
Before the event, on August 18th, Dr. Fisher will be giving a public-level talk about the eclipse in conjunction with the Worthy Garden Club and the Hopservatory. In this fun and informative talk Dr. Fisher will explain how eclipses occur, describe what we should expect to see, and talk about how to view the eclipse safely.
Joann Eisberg PhD.: Science in the Moon's Shadow - a Brief History of the Science of Solar Eclipses 6:30-7:15pm
From ancient Greece and China to the present day, astronomers have used eclipse data to explore the architecture of the solar system, the physics of the sun, and the bending of space itself. This talk briefly surveys some of the highlights of eclipse science.
Brad Hughes PhD.: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence 7:30-8:15pm
Since the start of the SETI program, scientists have been searching for signs of intelligent life. Rather that just be passively listening for ET to call us, Astronomers are capable now of identifying planets that may harbor life. This will be a tour through some of the most recent discoveries in SETI, including planets that may have the right conditions for life to arise
Grant Tandy: Sunday Solar 12-4pm - Starhop Night 9-11pm
Grant’s love for astronomy began with his innate curiosity of the natural world, wondering how things work and why. Once discovering the vastness and wonder of astronomy it quickly became a passion for him, leading to a career in teaching public astronomy programs. Grant will lead a telescopic journey starting with our Sun for Solar viewing Sunday at Noon. Grant will also be offering a special open house viewing Sunday night, no need to register for this. Just show up the night of and take the stairs directly to the 3rd floor Hopservatory. Suggested $5 donation for visitors aged 7 and over. Kids free.
Hopservatory Manager, NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador