Bee Keeping          
                  at  
Straight Creek Valley Farm

There are so many things to share about our life on Straight Creek Valley Farm in
southern Ohio.  Everything has been a learning experience for this New York City born
and raised lady, but on this page I’d like to share what we have learned after nine  
seasons of bee keeping.  

My husband Greg was born and raised in the country, and his grandfather, now long
passed away, was a bee keeper.  Greg remembers as a little boy following his
grandfather out to the hives and watching him work the bees and Greg has always
dreamt of keeping bees himself.  So after we bought the farm in the spring of 2003,
Greg read all the bee books that he could get his hands on, learned as much as he
could from the Internet, and finally, ordered a bee hive and some equipment from
Bee
Commerce.  He built the hive, made up of two deep hive boxes and three shallow
boxes called supers, in our city basement over the winter.  We then ordered five
pounds of live bees and a marked queen over the internet and sat back to wait
patiently until spring when the bees would be shipped.

On a designated day in the spring, the live bees arrived at our city post office, much to
the distress of the post office workers.  Bee Commerce had told us the bees’
preplanned arrival date so that I could call the post office and advise them of the
shipment.  Mail carriers will not deliver live creatures, so it was important that the post
office had a phone number so that they could reach me immediately after the bees’
arrival.  We did not want our bees sitting in a hot back room or on a delivery dock for
long.  The post office called and told us with real concern that our bees were escaping
and we needed to pick them up immediately!  My husband could not leave work at that
moment, so I hurried down to pick up the bees by my self.  I had never met a honey
bee before and  I had no idea what to expect.  As soon as I saw the bees, I could
understand the post office’s distress about the “escape”.  The wooden box holding our
bees was surrounded by fifteen to twenty large local bee-like flying creatures.  I could
clearly see our smaller bees through the wire mesh of their travel cage.  I could also
hear their buzzing and I assumed that the larger locals were just curious and checking
the new arrivals out.  Several postal workers watched.  I had an old blanket with me
that I thought might help if the bees had in fact been escaping.  I figured that I could
wrap up the package of escaping bees in the blanket and avoid being stung.  Even
though the bees were not actually escaping, I was still glad to have the blanket.  I tried
to stay calm, and walked over to the packaged bees and whisked the larger bees
away with the blanket.  I then calmly picked  up the packaged bees, amazed by the
suddenly louder buzzing, and carried them out to my car.  Thankfully, the local city
bees did not follow me as I walked off of the loading dock.  The postal workers seemed
very relieved as I took the bees away. Later that afternoon, we drove out to Straight
Creek with our buzzing cargo to introduce them to their new home. I will not give you
all of the details of what we did and how we did it, but I will say that we followed the
directions and advice set forth in
Bee Keeping for Dummies.  The book definitely
provided us with the basic information we needed to start out as novice beekeepers.  

By the time it was fall, we knew that our first hive was healthy and had enough honey
stored to get them through the winter.  They did not, however, produce enough honey
for us to harvest in their first season.  That is because they were a brand new colony
and had to spend their summer getting the hive ready for winter.  We watched with
fascination all summer.  First, they drew out the new wax foundation, that  we had
placed in the hive frames, into wax comb.  Once the comb was built, the queen began
to lay her eggs in the lower brood chamber wax cells, and the workers began to fill the
outside and upper chamber frames with the colony’s own honey stores to last them
through the winter..

Things have a way of turning out though, because we did manage to harvest honey
our first season as bee keepers.  Earlier in the year, as we were ordering the standing
seam tin roof for our farm cabin, we met a wonderful man named Jim Higgins.  We had
noticed that the building supply store where we purchased our roof had an indoor bee
hive display along the back wall.  My husband found the display fascinating and as we
looked at the display, an elderly gentleman came up to us.  We now know him as Jim
Higgins, a much published and renowned bee keeper who, very fortunately for us,
lives in southern Ohio.   Jim later introduced us to two homeless bee hives, whose bee
keeper had passed away over the winter.  With Jim’s help we moved the hives to
Straight Creek.  The two established colonies set right to gathering Straight Creek
pollen and nectar, and by early August they had filled a total of five supers.  These
five supers made up our first harvest.  Once again, we followed the guide lines set
down in Beekeeping for Dummies, adapting and learning as we went through the
process.  The book was very helpful indeed, and of course, our harvest was done the
old fashioned way, with a hand cranked four frame extractor, a pot of hot water and
two uncapping knives (so there was always a warm knife ready to cut through the
cappings).  Straight Creek Farm is off the grid, so we do almost everything the old
fashioned way.  
(To learn about the details of our first honey harvest, click here).

We ended up with about one hundred and sixty, twelve ounce, jars of clear light
summer honey that we have enjoyed giving away to family and friends.  We hoped to
have a second somewhat smaller harvest in the fall, of the stronger goldenrod honey,
but the extremely dry late summer and early fall  weather made for a poor honey
flow.   We were still pleased though, with our first season of beekeeping, for our
Straight Creek Honey in great demand.   Perhaps it is because our first season price
was right (free), but perhaps it was because it really was a delightful, light clear
honey.  

We learned, through our first and later honey harvests, that extracting he honey is a
sticky, but very rewarding task.  We decided, rather than spread stickiness throughout
our main cabin with repeated harvests, that we would build a sugar shed, a smaller
version of the larger cabin, topped with more of the green standing seem tin roof that
lead us to Jim Higgins.  The shed, measuring twelve by twelve feet with a small
covered porch and separate entrance storage room, is worth it's weight in gold.  It is
wonderful to be able to store all of our honey and bee keeping supplies in the sugar
shed (as well as our maple sugaring equipment) giving us more space in the main
cabin, and, as an added bonus, when family and friends come to Straight Creek to
visit, we can use the sugar shed as a guest house.

There is no doubt about it.  Bee keeping is a fascinating adventure and I am excitedly
looking forward to many years' of honey harvesting.
The sugar shed under construction and completed.. You can see that we simply placed it on cement pavers.  
Getting the foundation dug, laying down the floor and getting it framed was a good weekend's work for the
two of us and then, once framed in, we finished it off over the next several months.
From the front porch of the new bee hive you can see the two older hives and our cabin in the distance.
Greg puts a new super on one of the older hives.  We have found the
smoker (in his left hand) to be an invaluable tool, though we try not to
use too much smoke.  When we open the hive, as seen in the photo
below, a gentle smoking keeps the bees deep inside, gorging on their
honey so they can fly away from what they think is a "forest fire".
I found a box of old meat packer's cotton string
at a farm auction.  I was the successful bidder
at six dollars.  The thick cotton string  is a
perfect slow burning material  for the smoker,
and with twenty rolls, I should have enough to
last a good twenty years!
Christine readies the smoker for a trip to the hives.
Straight Creek Valley Farm
click here to view
sustainable beekeeping
powerpoint presentation
Join us for the 2014
Beginner Sustainable
Beekeeping Class
Honey Bee Liability
powerpoint presentation