When I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to learn about beekeeping, I was met with many surprises, including how I would react to the experience.
After reading I’ve Never Feel Calmer Than When Dozens of Bees Are Buzzing Around Me, in Real Simple’s 2018 April issue, I was inspired to learn how to become a beekeeper. Would it really be the calming hobby I was searching for? I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to find out.
Once there, I met up with beekeeper Adam Hickman, who owns Foxhound Bee Company, to learn the essentials of beekeeping. I had the opportunity to help Hickman with an important process: opening up a hive to inspect its progress. Beekeepers do this to make sure that there’s plenty of space to store honey and for the queen to lay her eggs.
Springtime is also when it’s common for a beehive to divide and send out a new colony of bees, called a swarm, leaving behind their delicious honey, pollen, and half of the hive with a new queen to start her reign. When this happens, it's time to install new packages of bees—another process that I learned from Hickman and a few other local beekeepers.
In case you're curious, here are the steps involved in opening a bee hive and installing a new package of bees:
Step 1: Open the lid of the package of bees using a hive tool. There is a can at the top of the package, so don’t worry about the escaping at this point.
Step 2: Knock the package against a hard surface to keep the bees from flying out of the top.
Step 3: Remove the can of sugar syrup but make sure to hold the tab to the queen cage, which should be visible.
Step 4: Take out the queen cage, and place the lid back on the opening of the package so the other bees don’t escape. You need to move quickly, yet calmly.
Step 5: Open the existing hive and shift around the frames, removing around 3 to 5 frames from the hive.
Step 6: Check the queen cage to make sure the queen is alive. Remove the cork from the side of the queen cage next to the sugary plug.
Step 7: Staple the tab of the queen cage to the top of a frame in the hive and place the frame in the hive.
Step 8: Shake all of the bees from the package of bees into the hive on top of the queen cage.
Step 9: Insert the frames removed earlier, being careful not to crush the bees.
Step 10: Replace the inner and outer cover. It’s important to leave the package by the hive at least until the next day to make sure any remaining bees that didn’t make it into the hive find their way in.
Step 11: Fill the feeder with the syrup (1:1 sugar water) and give it to the bees to eat.
Step 12: Don’t disturb the hive for several days, but make sure to refill the feeder, if needed.
Step 13: After 3 to 5 days, check to make sure the queen is still alive and the bees have chewed their way through the sugary plug.
Hickman and I repeated this process two or three times, depending on how many hives were at each home. The process is intricate, but once you get the hang of it it's incredibly soothing.
I was amazed at how organized bees are, how systematic the process to maintain a hive is, and how important the different roles are in the overall health of the hive. I was also impressed by their solution-making skills—when a problem arises, they simply fix it and keep running.
The entire process gave me more than I ever expected. I knew I'd learn a few things, and taste some delicious honey, but I had no idea I'd walk away inspired just by watching the bees work together, in harmony. Lessons I took back home to New York City with me: slow down, practice patience, and focus on working harmoniously with others.