Hive Hosting

They say that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Sometimes the sentiment extends to more than just trash. That was the case when my dad approached me with an idea. It was something that would eliminate a problem for him, but could be very useful to me.

My Dad kept bees a very long time ago. It was all done on the fly, learning things by trial and error and sting. He enjoyed beekeeping, just as he enjoyed home canning, and gardening, and raising chickens. He wanted to pass that knowledge down, so the two of us each got a hive, and I learned to raise bees the same way that he had. I had pretty good luck. Him? Not so much. He ran into trouble after a while. You see, he had a very productive hive. The queen in that hive was able to lay eggs at a rate that didn't even seem possible. While most hives were just shaking off the last vestiges of winter, his hive was already booming. Most beekeepers would rejoice at such a prolific queen and the potential of that hive. And Dad would have been excited too, except that they managed to keep their growth a secret from him - right up until the day they swarmed.

A swarm of bees clinging to the side of a shed

A swarm of bees clinging to the side of a shed

It was only March, far earlier than one would normally expect swarming to be on the minds of bees. But they had become crowded and determined to find a larger home, so off they went. And a day later, they swarmed again. And then again. In total, that hive sent off 7 after-swarms. It was horrible. Not to the hive, they were happy as could be, but to Dad. Two of the swarms took up residence at his neighbor's home, and he just couldn't stop worrying that they would do it again. The hive needed to be split, it needed to be moved, it needed to be inspected frequently, and it simply needed more time and energy than he had available.

And so he offered his hive to me. (In exchange, he would host the turkeys that we were planning on raising.) But then, the deal got even better! Uncle Mike, gardener extraordinaire and fellow promoter of organic farming practices, had offered his property as a host site for my bees.

You might wonder why someone would offer to host a hive. It's quite simple, really. The land owner gets all the benefits of owning bees - a more productive vegetable garden, larger flowers, high quality seed stock, and an ample supply of honey. And yet they take on none of the expenses or the physical requirements of the beekeeper - lifting 90 pound boxes, cleaning frames, inspecting for mites, not to mention the occasional sting . On the flipside of the coin, the beekeeper gains additional space for raising bees without having to purchase land. This space may be larger, farther from residential areas, with access to more, and often healthier, forage.

The hive that swarmed, neighbor's home in the background

The hive that swarmed, neighbor's home in the background

These bees in particular are in for a real treat. They were in a great hive stand with good sun exposure. But when a new housing development went in, they were suddenly only 20 feet away from a neighbor's house. That house also blocked a good amount of sunlight. Clean water was provided, but the bees seemed to prefer to get their drinks elsewhere, as they prefer their beverages to be a little more on the boggy side. And while Dad was able to give the bees a lot of clean forage in his own yard - even planting Dutch clover throughout the lawn - there was no way to control the neighbors' use of weed killers and pesticides. At Mike's, though, there are 15 acres of fields with nothing to block the sun to the south. The closest neighbor is the owner of the adjacent 10 acres. That owner just so happens to be my dad. So, in reality, there are 25 acres of land that are under family control. Pesticides and herbicides are not a problem. There are numerous fruit trees and wild nut trees for early spring forage.

Wild filbert tree in bloom

Wild filbert tree in bloom

By late spring and throughout the summer, Mike's garden will provide a wide variety of pollen and nectar sources. And from late summer into fall, the mountainous heaps of untamed Himalayan blackberries will be turned into a most delicious honey.  Not only is there plenty of food for the bees, but there are also perfect watering holes.

Two separate ponds sit on the property, and a creek runs through it as well. The ponds have the sort of gently sloping, slightly mucky permimeter that bees love. And, of course, we built them a brand new hive stand with a sloped roof, to protect them from the rain and snow when winter returns.

Building a hive stand at the host site

Building a hive stand at the host site

I couldn't be more excited to begin this journey, enjoying the benefits of bee hosting for the first time. But hosting a hive isn't just a win-win situation. It's win-win-win. For the host, for the beekeeper, and also for the bees. If you have ever wanted to help out the bees, but aren't able to make the time or financial investment, consider hosting. If you are thinking of keeping bees in the future, but you are wanting to get a feel for what's truly involved first, consider hosting. If you are looking for a way to get involved in your community or to put your mark on food production, consider hosting. You can be the be the host if you have the space - it doesn't take much. Or you can own the bees and place them on another person's land. There are lots of reasons to give it a try. Is there a reason not to?

Katy Penwell

of Milk and Honey, Lynnwood, WA 98087, USA