Jen's First Try at Beekeeping
I first started making these bees back in 2007 when I was a production glassblower in Colorado. As an aspiring gardener, I was also interested in keeping bees to help pollinate my garden and just because they are amazing creatures. In 2002 I purchased four established hives from a beekeeper in the Denver area and moved them up the mountain to Allenspark, Colorado, where I lived, surrounded by National Forest. I knew it was risky, trying to keep bees in black bear territory, but I had done my research and set up an electric fence around the hives to protect them. There was really no question if the bears were going to find them. It was a question of when. Fellow beekeepers suggested hanging raw bacon on the fence so that the bears would get a good zap on the nose right away and respect the fence. So I did that, and the bears did indeed find the bacon, the bees and the fence. And they walked right through.
It took a few weeks. I had a blissful couple of weeks that spring, tending my garden, watering by hand from a well, and watching the bees. It was such a pleasure to sit next to the hive without protection, letting the bees get used to my presence and watching them go about their business. It was fascinating.
Until the morning when I took my tea out on to the deck and saw the hives down below in the garden, overturned, and tens of thousands of angry, confused bees.
I donned my beekeeping gear and went down to assess the carnage. It was terrible. The clever bears had pushed an aspen sapling over, knocking down the fence, and they marched right in. The hives had been knocked over, and many of the frames of brood and honey were torn apart. The bees were not happy. I got stung more that first day than I did all the rest of my beekeeping career combined. But I was intent on salvaging what I could. I managed to rebuild three of the four hives and reattach the fence.
That night my partner and I began a ritual of evening bear watch. The bears had a taste for our honey, and they would be back. We would drive our truck down to the hives and sit and wait. My partner, who had lived in Alaska and had a gun-shy hunting dog, had a retrieval dummy that was fired with .22 caliber blanks. We sat in the dark, armed with the retrieval dummy, waiting for the bear. And when the bear came back, we turned on the high beams, jumped out of the cab, and took our best shot. I don’t think we ever actually hit the bear with the padded dummy, but the sound of the .22 did scare it off. This ritual lasted several weeks. Then the bear changed its schedule, stopping by in the wee hours of the morning instead. And destroyed the hives while we slept.
Within days we were down to two hives, and they were struggling. Then we were down to one. On the final morning of my early beekeeping career, when I took my tea out on to the deck and heard a sound I’d never heard before. It was like a mechanical humming, too quiet to be our neighbor’s chain saw, too loud and too close to be a car in the distance. Then I saw the swarm: 20 feet high up in a Ponderosa pine. The bees had had enough. They were leaving. When a hive swarms, due to overcrowding or an unsafe location (ahem) they gorge themselves on honey and surround the queen, escorting her in a huge humming mass, to wait in a safer location until scouts find a suitable place to move. As I watched, they apparently found a safer place, because the whole mass moved out of the tree and down the road into the woods. I was no longer a beekeeper.
Interested in starting your own hive? Here are a few helpful links: