Urban Farm Livestock

For a few years I have been a beekeeper. I’m not in it for the honey, I just like having them around, watching them zip from cucumber flower to raspberry blossom. Feeding on the black locust blooms. I don’t medicate my bees, I pursue a natural, organic form of beekeeping. While I can’t guarantee that the bees are gathering nectar from only organic sources, I can avoid raising bees that are dependent on artificial sweeteners and meds. There is a lot to say about this type of beekeeping, and I am certainly learning as I go along. unfortunately, I lost two out of my three hives over the past year. I had gotten my nucs (a bee colony small enough to start a full hive) from a local keeper who orders his bees from a large Apiary in Georgia or Louisiana or some such place. Almost everyone does. I don’t get to see how those bees are raised, but I am guessing they are fed sugar water or corn syrup and lots of medicine. There is no natural selection with these industrially raised bees, and they breed them to be way bigger then a natural honey bee.  I ordered two of these nucs last year, and I already had one hive that was 5 years old and extremely healthy and well adapted to this ecosystem.  I didn’t harvest honey last fall in hopes that they would start off really strong in the spring. I also allow the bees to build their comb in any way that they please, which I find to be really fucking cool.

Ye olde bee hive. A cc from a couple years ago, taken by Scott Alario. Back when I inherited my first hive, and my jeans were new. Those girls taught me a lot...

One of the new hives died over the winter. They had plenty of food, but some disease didn’t let them live. That was a sad thing, opening a hive and finding a pile of dead bees. I turned the bees into the soil for sentimental reasons.  I did expect this, the death of a hive is pretty likely no matter your methods, and taking a strain of bees off of medicine after who knows how many generations of being dependent on it is a risky thing. The other new hive survived, so that was good news. They should be much stronger this year.

The true heart breaker was the loss of my 5 year old hive. A big old hive, with strong small bees that I have been working with for years. It predates me actually, having been passed down. I am confounded by this, but the hive was full of honey. The bees were alive earlier in the spring, and looked great. I went into the hive a few days ago, and there were no live bees, and barely any dead ones. Empty. Like showing up to the circus, and the music is on, and the popcorn machines are going, but no one is there. Could it be the infamous colony collapse disorder? That would be really surprising, as it supposedly does not happen to small backyard beekeepers, especially on a hive that is so old and healthy and self selected to be strong. The bees could have swarmed several times. Bees swarm when half the hive leaves with a new queen to start a new hive somewhere, and the other half stays. They can swarm several times in succession, but we didn’t see any evidence of this. Living in a city, you would expect to hear from a neighbor if there was a bee swarm in their trees. So what the hell? I don’t know.

This is free form honey comb building. I avoid putting wax sheets in the frames so that the bees can choose how big their combs are, and in what pattern. It is also great to look at.Although, the bees do stick to straight traditional architecture from time to time. This is one of many capped and full of honey.Honey doesnt taste as good when your bees are missing. It is still pretty delicious though.

I will have honey for sale at the Armory Park Farmers market this year.

In other news, Jenna and I have a backyard flock of chickens! Jenna built a wonderful coop out of found material (except for the dang chicken wire). We went an Auction Barn in Swansea last night, and after an educational 5 hours, we came home with 4 Rhode Island Reds.

Dubin guarding the coop. This is right outside our bedroom window, and we woke up to some adorable clucking this morning.

Yes, each crate has several animals in it. Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Pheasents, Parakeets, Doves and Chickens, Turkeys...

The Auctioneer on his way to the booth, checking out the selection...

The bidding begins.

Thats them! Jenna bid and got 4 young hens for $6.50 each! They tried to get her to take 6, but we couldnt do it.

My mom enjoyed the show too. Outside the barn Jenna shows off her swag.

We put them in the coop around 11:00 pm.

We named them "The Donnas" after the woman who advised Jenna on how to play her cards right at the auction. We are happy to have them.

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