Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Balcony Beehive

I’ve been promising to write this post for what seems like forever now so I will dutifully neglect my Clinical Sciences lab book in order to inform you about our dabbling in backyard beekeeping.

Much to my delight and my mother’s equally obvious consternation, Dad brought home an empty bee hive from the community garden where a talented volunteer carpenter works his magic building them a couple of times a week. That was nearly two months ago. Now, following the introduction of a brood hive, the hive buzzes with activity from sunrise to sunset.

My favourite thing about the bees is the way they carry the pollen… it’s just too cool! Little bags of white, yellow and orange hang off their back legs as they enter the hive, navigating their way through the traffic – reminds me of council road works gone mad (which they usually have)! 

They have also taken to using the glass that encloses that section of the balcony as a runway of sorts: they fly from the hive to the bottom of the glass, climb up until they reach the top and then take off (this also manages to keep them off the neighbour’s walkway, not two metres below). As a result of the bees having appropriated this piece of infrastructure, it is decorated with thin rivers of brown and gold. It’s become a source of entertainment and wonder for all of us here so we’ve learnt not to worry about such minor blemishes on the aesthetic features. Our dog has also learnt to avoid them… unfortunately, she had to learn the hard way.

The first night we got them, I experienced my first bee sting. In the panic of being stung, I hopped around like an idiot and screamed like a little girl… I must say, I’m not too proud to admit it. That first one got me in the back of my neck and the second came when I was hanging out the washing one morning and I stepped on one of the bees littering the balcony floor. That time though I was a little more cool about it and calmly removed the sting from my foot, leaving the screaming to my panic merchant mother. Apparently it’s important to flick or scrape the sting out rather than grab and pull, as the latter acts to send more of the toxin in.

Another thing I never noticed about bees was the way they age. They also do so visibly, becoming progressively more grey. Here’s a crotchety old grandma worker, on her last legs, crawling alongside one of the young'uns:

With 1500 bees hatching every day and with each of these bees having a lifespan of approximately 6 weeks, it’s not too hard to imagine what our balcony looks like on most mornings. As long as you don’t step on them though, you should be right.

Another fun fact: pollen tastes awesome. One of the bees died on her way to the hive one day while Dad and I were observing. Curiosity led us to picking the pollen off her back legs and popping it in our mouths. Yum-o! It’s different to the stuff you get in the health food shops in that it doesn’t have any of the bees’ goodies injected into it. That version – the ‘super food’ – is called bee cake. I’m yet to try some straight bee cake but by extracting honey by crushing up the comb as we do, there is always some bee cake within it.

Speaking of honeyextraction, we opened up the hive to have a look this weekend just gone and managed to scavenge a fair bit of comb from it. I still find it fascinating and terribly exciting that honey from different areas has a distinctive taste. The bees at home make a sickly sweet, nearly so sweet it hurts, honey which is so different to the mellow liquid that comes out of the garden. It’s still not bad though and I’m not going to complain. Better than store-bought rubbish any day!

That’s enough rambling from me. A couple more days of winter semester and I can give myself over to the oblivion of lazy-day sleep-ins, reading feel-good fiction and watching reruns of Doctor Who. My next project is to convince the carpenter at the garden to help me make a TARDIS bookshelf… check out this design I found on tumblr!

- Matilda


  1. This was a cute post! I especially like the second picture :-)

  2. Thank you lovely. Hope you're enjoying the honey <3