(place your cursor over each photo for additional information)
What kind of bees are at the garden? Italian Honeybees (Apis mellifera). Italian honeybees are good producers of honey, and of the commercial bees, they are considered to be the most gentle. They are the most common commercial honey bee and are readily available.
How many in a hive? There is one queen, 200 to 300 drones (males), and 20,000 to 50,000 workers (all female). We'll start with one hive onsite, but may grow to two. Having two hives allows the beekeeper to occasionally swap the hive frames or the hive itself to strengthen the weaker hive. In the spring an additional empty hive may be placed as a ‘bait hive’ to catch a swarming hive.
What are their travel habits? They travel dawn to dusk, warming up with the sun. There is no mass exodus from the hive – their travel is more continuous. When there’s a plant nearby that’s blooming, you may see more activity in the front of the hive. They travel up to 2 miles from the hive but generally stay closer to home when a nectar source is nearby. Bees fly up out of the hive so when the hive is in a populated area it is good to have it elevated or have a fence in front of the hive to encourage their flight path upwards.
How do bees reproduce? Besides raising new bees within the hive, the bees will occasionally leave the hive in search of a new hive location. Bees typically swarm in the spring (May-July). When there’s a lot of activity in the hive, and if the hive is cramped, the hive produces more queens and the former queen flies away with about ½ the hive. The swarm that’s leaving the hive will hover and gather together. The bees that leave are full of honey, so they’re unlikely to sting but a large group of bees can be unnerving. Part of maintaining the hive is ensuring there’s enough room in the hive for them to continue to keep growing and the hive isn’t producing more queens. But this activity is a natural phenomenon and is unpredictable in nature.
In addition to the benefits for the garden in terms of pollination, are there other environmental impacts or benefits from having bees onsite? We’ll be helping to pollinate native plants in the area, and supplying pollination for the Kobe Terrace community garden, Yesler Terrace and the green roof areas. We’ll also be helping to replenish the bee population in the area, which is on the decline. These aren’t native bees; they are domesticated European bees (not Africanized) as found throughout North America.
Is there any danger to people onsite? Bees sting when they are threatened. They die after stinging, so they are not likely to sting when unprovoked. They’ll sting if they get caught in clothing or if there are arms swatting at them. As in any garden, there is some danger of bee stings onsite, and signage onsite will alert the public that bees are present.
How much honey is produced each year? Between 0-50 pounds would be average for the area. As with any type of agriculture, the yield can vary widely. Typically a new hive will not produce a honey crop the first year since the bees are using most of their honey stores to create combs in the frames. We’ll start collecting frames out of the honey supers around August/September. We take the frames home to be stored and process the honey with an extractor (rented from the local bee club), bottle and then distribute the honey. Honey can either be separated by hive, or sometimes merged with honey from other hives.
What would a maintenance schedule look like? April – May: Install the hive
April – June: Check on the hive about every 2 weeks (open the hive). Feed the bees when needed (sugar water) to get new or weak hives to develop quickly.
June – Aug.: Check the hive about every 2 weeks to make sure they are doing well.
Aug. – Sept.: Harvest honey - Remove supers (where the honey is produced)
Sept – Oct.: Manage the hive (make sure they have enough honey for the winter, the population is doing well)
Oct – April: Check hive once a month (visual check)
Community resources: Puget Sound Beekeepers Association – www.pugetsoundbees.org
Washington State Beekeepers Association - www.wasba.org
West Sound Beekeepers Association - www.westsoundbees.org