10,003 New Friends

18 05 2010

Cottonball, Brownie and . . . Bob

This week has seen a huge population surge at our little suburban mini-farm.  My friend, Michelle, called to let me know that her daughter’s class came into possession of 28 chicks that they had received from an organic chicken farmer.  They had been observing the chicks’ growth for a couple of weeks but, now that the school year was winding down, and the chicks’ growth was ramping up, it was time for them to find new homes.  Danae went out to the coop to measure to see how many we could accommodate when they reached full size.  As a general rule, each hen should have anywhere from 3-10 square feet of dedicated space.  Given the size of our coop, and the size of our eleven current hens, we could reasonably accommodate four more chickens.

We ended up with three.  The chicks are now two and a half weeks old living happily in our 3-tier hamster cage in the laundry room.  They came pre-named:  Cottonball, Brownie and…Bob and are Araucanas which will likely produce blue eggs.  I am hopeful that, when the ladies (and gentleman?) reach full size, integration with the rest of the brood will go reasonably well, given they are supposed to be a rather docile breed.  Integrating chickens is never easy, but I have found that integrating a group of chickens into an existing brood works far better than integrating single birds.

The first bee emerges from our hive box

The morning after Cottonball, Brownie and…Bob joined our little zoo, Danae got up early and drove up to Walnut Creek to Bay Area Beekeeping to pick up our box of bees.  She met with Steven, a biology professor who is doing his part to keep bee populations up, and purchased a single-deep hive box with an already established colony inside.  Danae shared with Steven our plan of placing the box up on the roof of our carport and he seemed excited by the idea.  He was interested in coming to see our setup and to discuss the possibility of our hosting more hives in the same location.  Steven said the 650 area code is a wonderful place for beekeeping due to the large variety of flowering plants that thrive here.  Hosting hives is a great way to experience some of the joys of beekeeping with the benefit of having more pollinators in your yard and some honey to keep without any of the work.  It’s also a good way to learn from an experienced beekeeper if you are considering getting some bees of your own.

Ten Thousand Agitated Stingers

The biggest difficulty we had was in getting the hive box up onto the roof of the carport.  Danae suggested I just push it up the ladder as I go but, once I lifted the box a rung or two above eye-level, I remembered very quickly that this was a screen-bottomed box with thousands of agitated stingers.  Danae called out, “Don’t worry, they can’t get out!”  I said, “Yes, but their butts can!”  I immediately set the box back down and hatched another plan.  I find great pleasure in the hunt, particularly if it involves any sort of MacGyver-like innovation.  I went to the patio of our guest house and found a hanging pot rack that we had recently took down from our kitchen.  I put the hive box on top of the pot rack and fastened it with rope then ran some rope through the hanging chains of the pot rack.  I threw the ropes up to Danae and she hoisted the box up while I guided it carefully in order to prevent it from hitting the sides of the carport.

My pot rack hoisting system

Once it was up, we put it up on four cans (that have been living on our roof for about seven years) so that the hive would have proper ventilation from the bottom.  Now that it was properly situated, with the openings pointing toward the apple tree and out onto our easement, it was time to remove one of the three corks.  It is important not to remove all three at the same time so that the bees don’t rush the entrance all at once.  Also, as the bees get accustomed to their new environment it is less stressful for them to have just one opening to defend.

I removed the middle cork and waited.  Within twenty seconds the first bee emerged.  Now the hive box is literally buzzing with activity.  From sunup until sundown we can stand in the back driveway and watch the bees come and go, busily collecting pollen from all over the neighborhood (and perhaps the Baylands?).

There has been some die-off in the first few days — bees curling up in our back driveway and simply passing away.  We are not sure what is causing this but we will be closely monitoring the hive and making sure this is not a lasting phenomenon — otherwise we’ll be giving Steven a call…

The Bees' New Home

Two weeks from now we will take the lid off and place a new layer on top of the hive box.  The single layer we have now will be where the bees live, breed and store the honey they will need for the winter.  If they have a very prolific pollen-collecting season, they might fill up that bottom layer and start producing in the second tier and that is honey that we will be able to collect and use.  Even if we have to wait until after next winter to start collecting, at least we are now well on our way to being our own tiny little apiary and when our daughter asks for a new pet — a kitten or a Macaw — we can easily justify our NO answer.  With the addition of these 10,003 new friends we now have plenty of lives to care for.




3 responses

16 06 2010
24 06 2010

Check this out. Local blog, urban farm wtih bees, chickens and a cow!


24 06 2010

This is awesome — Sunset is probably less than a mile away from us and they seem to be trying out some of what we’re doing, and shunning some of what we have done. I wonder why they are bent on getting a cow and have not considered getting a goat or two? Yes, it’s a commitment, but the rewards are great. It is interesting that they found the same information about cow keeping that I found about livestock keeping for East Palo Alto and San Mateo County — you can have almost anything as long as you can provide the animal(s) with reasonable care. I’m thinking I might contact them about our little goat project and see what they have to say…

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