The Big Move

My back garden forms an odd, pie-shaped situation and for the past decade, has become increasingly shady, especially in the back corner section of the garden.

These two photos are several years old and most of what is blooming in the shots either no longer exists or doesn’t bloom due to the shady conditions. Some bloomers here include Turk’s caps, with their summer tiny, twirled flowers, a Mexican Honeysuckle bush, whose orange flowers appear when the mood strikes, a leaning Frostweed which blossoms as it reaches for autumn sun, and a few small, shade-tolerant perennials and grasses. This darkened corner is best suited for foliage and, as of March, the beehives.

When Bee Daddy built the Langstroth hives five years ago, I see-sawed about which would be a better spot for the two hives: in the back, shady corner, a generally out-of-the-way spot, or in one of the opened graveled sections of the main part of my back garden.

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I opted for the main area of the garden, and while that wasn’t a mistake–it was easy to work around the hives and they received some nice bits of sun–I’ve come to accept that it’s better to have the bees tucked in a part of the garden where no one but yours truly ventures.

In autumn, I decided to move the hives to the back section of my garden. Really, it was only one hive that needed moving, because Buzz absconded last spring, the hive sitting empty for the year. Picking up and transporting Buzz’s truncated hive–base and roof–was a snap. In the new beehive spot, I also expanded the limestone border between the negative space and the garden, enlarging the beehive area a bit. I intended to mulch or gravel, but February’s snow storm and the months-long cleanup which followed, plus a bum back to boot, rendered that segment of the project incomplete before the two colonies of bees moved in, Woody in March, the new one in April. I added a few more shade-tolerant grasses to the garden itself.

In this photo, taken in January, you can see short little Buzz sitting all alone in its new cul-de-sac of the neighborhood, while tall, stout Woody, remains in the original spot.

There are about 17 feet between the two hives. Our plan was to suit up and smoke Woody sometime after the first couple of winter freezes, then move Woody 2 to 3 feet a day for 5 to 6 days. It’s best not to move bee colonies more than a few feet at a time because bees use visual clues and pheromone signals to exit the hive and return. If hives are moved too far, too quickly, bees are lost.

After the move, the two hives would then sit side-by-side in their shady, corner garden. I knew that as we moved Woody, we’d need to traipse across some plants, but accepted that the few evergreen plants bothered wouldn’t be particularly damaged. The awful February storm made one thing easier: all my perennials, even the so-called “evergreens” were knocked back completely. So after I pruned all the plants to the ground that were in the hive’s pathway, it was time to move Woody.

What fun.

The big move progressed reasonably well for the first 4 or 5 days. The hive is ponderous and awkwardly tall with its two brood boxes and two honey boxes. Bee Daddy did most of the “heavy lifting” while I skootched the hive along, keeping it vertical. The last day was, for whatever reason, the worst. It was chilly, which should have made it easier because the bees are slower in cold weather, but it took us longer to get the hive set and leveled in its new place. When working the hives, I wear a full bee suite, with veil, and Bee Daddy wears jeans, boots, and a jacket with a veil. As we were finishing up, Bee Daddy’s bum fired up in pain; he realized that he’d forgotten to put a belt on his jeans and, well, you can guess what happens when the jacket rides up, the jeans slip down, and bees find a way into clothes and onto bare skin.

Poor Bee Daddy.

Ouch! Itch!

In April, we hived a new colony and renamed the hive Bo-Peep. If you’re familiar with Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ franchise, you’ll know who Bo-Peep and Woody are–a great pair!

Drat! I wish I’d had the time to mulch before we moved the hives. The weeds are going to drive me nuts this growing season!

Both hives are thriving. We continue to feed sugar water to Bo-Peep, as she’s still combing out the frames, but she’s almost done so the supplemental feeding will end soon. Bo’s queen is laying eggs and she appears to be off to a good start in colony life. Soon (we should have already done it!), we’ll remove one of the two full honey boxes from Woody and add an empty one for them to fill during the course of the blooming season. Then we’ll have another gallon or more of honey to process; we already have an embarrassment of riches in that category.

From both a garden aesthetic and a practical positioning, I’m glad the hives are in the back of the garden. The bees don’t care where their hives sit as long as there is plenty of nectar and pollen available, and honey to make and hoard.

In our subsequent hive checks, Bee Daddy hasn’t once forgotten to put on a belt! Lesson learned!

10 thoughts on “The Big Move

  1. That was a big job and the freeze really gave us all a lot of extra work. We just finished cutting down the dead parts of shrubs. The bees I had been feeding all winter are gone, which means all the flowers are back.

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    • Yes it was and you’re right, there has been so much work and clean-up, that other projects have had to wait their turn. We still need to prune back our Retama tree, which is coming back from the roots, but the upper limbs froze. I also have an arborist coming to assess damage to my oaks and ash trees. We’ve had lots of rain–mixed feelings about that–but at least it’s not drought. Yet.

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  2. Will Bo-Peep be enlarged to the same size as Woody? They do look nice in their new location. Never having seen Toy Story, all I could think of was the nursery rhyme. When I looked it up, I was surprised to find that it’s far more extensive than the short version I learned as a child.

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    • Yes, as the colony grows, we’ll add another brood box (that’s what you see now) and then eventually, the shorter honey boxes. I’d estimate that we won’t add a honey box until next spring, but if it’s a good year of blooms, it might happen in autumn.

      I remember that poem and its ending. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s a bit dark…:)

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  3. Good work Bee folk, and Ouch! Belated regards to Bee Daddy for his noble sacrifice.

    Your garden continues to inspire. The new hive location looks great. And…while I completely understand your regrets about not mulching, you know the bees won’t mind a few volunteer plants popping in their neighborhood.

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    • Haha–he’s fully recovered, but those gals will take any opportunity! They’re pretty calm and we don’t usually have much of an issue, but we try to get in and out as quickly as possible or they can become a bit cranky.

      Yes, most of the “weeds” are chosen plants that reproduce, reproduce, reproduce and all this rain eggs them on!

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  4. Hello Tina, sorry not to have written on your blog for so long but I have not even opened the mail: I am very depressed and I do not know when I will write again. It has been hard work moving the hives to the back of the garden. I’m so sorry for Bee Daddy’s bites! The new name, they make a fantastic couple: Bo-Peep and Woody. I’m very happy that Bo is doing very well and the queen lays a lot of eggs; and that Woody of a lot of honey: how delicious! I hope that you and Bee Daddy are in very good health, and that your back improves little by little and does not hurt too much. I send you all my best wishes. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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    • Hi Margarita, I’m sorry you’re depressed and I hope you can talk to someone. I’m always glad to hear from you and wish you and your mother well. Take care of yourself.

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