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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

A new hobby has me buzzing with excitement

Sam Bai
Bee boxes sitting on my lawn.

With college applications behind me, I have more time on my hands than in the past couple of years. As a result, I recently decided to take up beekeeping, starting a small honey farm in my backyard.

Unlike many livestock animals, bees produce useful byproducts: honey and wax. Having played hundreds of hours of “Minecraft,” I have built up a natural affinity for bees from making honey farms in the game. This, along with a desire to eat delicious honey, led me to try my hand at the hobby.

Unfortunately, though I had wanted to start beekeeping right after college applications, winter was not the ideal season to start a new hive. During winter, most bees consume reserve honey for food and enter a state of lull, vibrating to keep warm. I had to wait until winter was over so the bees had enough energy to operate, rather than starving or freezing to death.

Once the season became warmer, I bought basic hive-making materials, which consisted of a solid bottom floor, 16 frames and two hive bodies that I stacked on top of each other. Following Los Gatos’ ordinance, I ended up putting the hive on the far end of my deck to give it the most amount of sunlight.

To start populating the boxes with bees, I had a few options: buying entire groups of bees through packages, nucs — pre-established colonies living on frames — or the third option I went with, asking a neighbor to split their preexisting hive into two. Once my box received a split of their bees, the hive took a few days to grow a new queen, who lays all the eggs. Once the pheremones of the old queen disappear, new female larvae are fed royal jelly, which turns a would-be worker into an egg-laying queen.

The first hurdle I overcame to become the beekeeper of my dreams was the bees themselves. Their painful stings and swarm-like movement initially scared me. Surprisingly, this fear was extremely easy to subdue with the help of a bee suit and smoker which I got from my friend. The smoker, a small device that pushes smoke, makes the bees assume that there’s a fire, and they focus more on eating honey than attacking me. 

Learning more about the bees also decreased the fear I had of them. During a visit to a family friend’s hive, I found myself playing with the wings of a bee who had (unfortunately for them) made their way onto my gloves. In an attempt to learn its movement, I ended up crumpling the wings of the bee with my gloves. Although I can now comfortably move around the hives without the entire bee suit on, I still wear the veil to prevent the occasional sting to the head. If a sting does occur, the pain dissipates if I simply don’t think about it.

After being around bees long enough, they stopped looking like mini wasps (which I still garner a deep hatred for) and more like fluffy balls of black and yellow. It’s no wonder Batman loves the combination of black and yellow so much.

In the future, I might learn to capture my own swarm. Through organizations such as the Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild, beekeepers can volunteer to capture honey bee swarms. Although I still have a long way to go before trying that, I look forward to doing so someday.

My routine now consists of checking on the hives every couple of weeks, looking at honey levels and scraping off any excess wax. I’ll only begin harvesting the honey next year, as the bees need their honey reserves their first year.

Initially, I thought the rodents around my house would pose a problem, but to date, nothing has happened. Bees can be seen buzzing around the front of the hive and are fairly friendly, as long as I approach from the back of the colony to not disrupt bees entering and exiting their hive.

Luckily, there hasn’t been an infection or mites — a common problem among beekeepers — and the nearby wasps haven’t waged a war on my bees yet. Since my hive has only been around a few months, I haven’t had an opportunity to harvest the honey yet, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing the fruits of my (bees’) labor in the coming weeks.

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