Update

Where has the time gone?  2 months since my last blog post… holy cats.

Quick update:  we installed 6 new packages of bees into Langstroth hives at 3 other locations, did a tear-out of a feral hive that was 4′ by 4′ and 18″ deep (that was crazy!) and I did my first swarm catch… SOLO!  I have pictures and stories to go along with all of it and I promise to get to it as soon as I can.

Besides hands-on bee work, I have been busy speaking to groups ranging from kindergarten to adults about bees, beekeeping and the necessary and vital role bees play in the ecosystem.  I have had groups come out to our home to tour the hive, getting the kids up close and personal with our wonderful ladies.

In the next week or two, I will make sure to upload photos and give you all the details of the installs, catches and tear-outs.  It has been an amazing, lower stress few months, but the bees have been quite demanding, so that has taken up all of my available time~ but I am happy to do it!  :o)

First a Hobby, Now a Passion

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I have 8 more hours of waiting until I find out if we received out beekeeping license.  I though a good diversion from the churning ball of nerves in my stomach would be another blog post.  :)

You know, when you meet people as they ask what you do, it never crossed my mind until recently to state that I am a beekeeper, probably because it was “just one hive” and that it was a hobby.  Someone who knits doesn’t respond to the questions by stating that they are a knitter.  I hate that question anyway.  Maybe it is because I do not have a 9-5 job in which I am compensated for the time I spend that is all added up at the end of the year and reported in your taxes.  Maybe it is because I typically state “whatever I want” when someone asks me what I do.  Or “Queen of the Universe,” “Master & Commander,” or if in a setting where none of these are appropriate, I answer “Full-time Volunteer.”  Recently the position that I used to be paid for is one that I do for free.  A lot of tasks that I did in past lives (fundraising, grant-writing, etc.) I still DO, just not for any monetary compensation.  My children are both in school all day (4th grade and 2nd grade), so I don’t think “stay-at-home Mom” applies any longer.  And I sure as heck do not “make my home”, so homemaker does not apply.

When we got our first hive (our “hobby hive”) I was expecting a lot, but I never realized how addicting, exhilarating, and enjoyable it would be.  We got it as a living teaching tool (not only for the kids but for everyone), for pollination and as a hobby.  I never realized that it would turn into a passion, something that I would stand up and fight for and educate people about for 5 and a half months.  I never realized that it would be something to get me out of my shell and over my fear of public speaking.  I never realized that it would make friends and allies out of the most unlikely people, and bind together people of a community, of sorts.  As hokey as it sounds, that ONE decision has changed our lives completely.

Well, we decided to turn our hobby into a bit of a side business.  We have purchased 4 Langstroth hives, 3 of which will be placed at an apple orchard and the 4th will be at my sister-in-law’s house.  

With this, we are creating “Bethel’s Seven Hills Honey,” Seven Hills being a nod to our area, as the City of Port Washington is widely known as having seven hills.  Thanks to two trips out to Lapp’s Bee Supply Store, we have just about everything we need to get started… minus the new tenants.  :)

Everywhere I go, I am asked if we have honey for sale.  Our BeePod is great as a “hobby hive” for observation and pollination.  It does produce a small amount of excess honey for us beekeepers, not nearly enough as my husband Mike would like to consume.  So, yes, it will be nice to have a little side money coming in to help support our new-found bee addiction.  Also, my children, myself and my husband suffer from horrible seasonal allergies.  I would much rather feed them honey than some prescription or over-the-counter drug to combat it.  With the increase of GMO crops (coming soon to your sugar beets!), I am going to get my family off of as much sugar as possible.  What better way to sweeten your coffee with than honey– much better than sugar with a side of pesticides.

So my question is this: have I now entered the realm of, when asked “What do you do?”, can I  finally add “beekeeper” to that list?  Given the time, resources and energy that I have put into my ability to keep bees, I would like to think so.

Hive Inspection

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This past Wednesday, we were finally able to crack open the top-bar hive for the first time this season.  Given all of our (well-documented) stressing about wintering the hive, we were very unsure of what we were going to find.

With these pics you will notice the increase in volume of bees.  We are working towards the area where the bees have been clustered all winter.

The weather was gorgeous, in the low 60’s, light breeze and full sun.  The bees were happy, curious and friendly.  We were thrilled by the volume of fondant that was left in the hive.  Since our hive got a late start (we got our bees in mid-July), they did not have what we felt was a sufficient amount of honey to get them through a typical Wisconsin winter.  We added fondant in the end of November and again in mid-January.  Seeing as there was an abundance of it remaining, we helped supplement them through this warm, unseasonable winter.

The only thing that was unexpected was the absence of eggs or larvae. We looked as best we could, but given the volume of bees surrounding the queen, it is entirely possible that we did not see some tiny fresh eggs.  It could also point to the fact that winter may not be finished yet and the Queen isn’t quite ready to start building up the hive.  We will do another inspection here in the next week or so and we should be seeing some eggs by then.

All in all, given the statistics, the wonky winter, and the horror stories (and pictures) of completely dead hives, we are ecstatic at the survival of our hive.  The ladies have been out gathering pollen and water like crazy here the last week or two, so they are eager to get a jump start this year.

:o)

 

Almost Home Free

Application submitted.  Neighborhood Notification letters have gone out.  All that is left for us to do is wait.  This process has required a LOT of patience and a lot of waiting.

I am not a patient person… never have been, never will be.

Hurry up and wait.

According to the most recent article by the Ozaukee Press and another one by the local Patch online news, we are (so far) the only people to submit the application and $25 licensing fee.

According to the office of the City Planner, the deadline for neighbors opposing the placement of a bee hive on our property have until March 21st (Wednesday) to submit a written objection.  As of Monday the 12th, nothing had been received.

This process has been going on since the beginning of October.  And all I have to do is hold on for just a few more days. 

Navigating the New Ordinance

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Back to the story at hand.

The last part of the saga was the unanimous passing of  Ordinance 2012-1 Licensing and Regulating Beekeeping in the City of Port Washington.  This was the collaborative efforts of area beekeeping experts (including Charlie Koenen from BeePods), the City Planner, the City Administrator, the City Attorney and others.  They referred to other urban beekeeping ordinances, tweaked it to meet the needs of Port and the liking of the Aldermen, Mayor and City Attorney.  We thought it was as good as it could have been.

A part of the ordinance is the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF-1).  The City maps out a 200 foot radius from the center of the property where the applicant resides.  The applicant is then required to contact the homeowners of the properties within this radius, showing them a hand-drawn map of the property (including where the hive is, flyaway barriers, water, property lines, etc.), and have them sign the form, checking that they either approve or that they oppose.  There is also a third box stating that one (or more) people residing at the address has a demonstrable medical condition caused by bee stings.  According to the ordinance, if more than 30% of homeowners within the radius oppose, or is 1 who has the medical condition opposes, the applicant will then be required to have a hearing in front of the City Council, who will then decide the fate of the applicant.  Follow all of that?  :)

The first day of the NNF canvassing, I step outside on a chilly afternoon in my jeans, layered shirts, mittens and casual coat and my favorite pink Adidas sneakers.  My husband then informs me (in one way, shape or form) that I may want to put more consideration into my outfit choice.  So I put on a nice pair of black pants, sweater, dress shoes and my wool peacoat.  As I am wandering, knocking and ringing doorbells unsuccessfully, it occurs to me that no one knows who I am because I look nothing like I usually do when they see me chasing my kids, out for a walk or bike ride, or up to my elbows in my garden.  Aside from meeting with the Priest to sign off for the neighboring Church/school/nursing home, I came up pretty empty.

We live in an eclectic mix of a neighborhood– residents who have been here 50+ years, young families new to the area, renters, part-time residents, and vacant properties.  Seeing as the Ordinance calls for “homeowners,” this made it difficult to reach some of the non-resident homeowners.  All in all, I figure that out of the 25 or so properties in the radius, I was able to be in contact with over 15 of the property owners; the remaining 10 either do not live at the residence or after 4-6 attempts, I stopped trying.  All but one person was aware of what was going on, and in fact, the biggest response I got was, “We were wondering when you were going to come around!”  It was a wonderful opportunity to exchange information and answer questions, but for the most part it was a lot of preaching to the choir.  But I am never one to shy away from an opportunity to talk bees and beekeeping, so it was a good experience.

After turning in the application and NNF-1, the City sent all of the homeowners in the 200 foot radius a Notification of Beekeeping Application along with the map we had to make with the NNF-1 form.  The letter states that homeowners have 14 days to submit a written objection to the application.  14 days.

We will deal with whatever hand we are dealt, as we always have.  So again, cautiously optimistic.

So Much to Post…

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… so little time.

Here with the end of the constant emails, meetings, phone calls, etc.  I thought I would have more time on my hands.  Nope.  Not one bit.  So there is so much stuff to catch up on blogging about, where do I even start?

Wintering, or lack thereof.  I guess I will start there.  So much of this has been devoted to the struggles and trials of getting urban beekeeping on the books here in Port Washington, but I will go back to a technical beekeeping aspect that I posted about a while back and we have been continuing to stress about and deal with: wintering our bee hive, or in our case, over-wintering.

Being in Wisconsin, we planned for a typical winter– cold and snowy.  Usually we have daytime highs around 15 or 20 degrees, somewhat windy, and snow a good portion of the time.  But nothing could have been further than the truth this year.  We have had maybe 3 snowfalls (over an inch or two) and at least 75% of the days have been sunny and warmer than freezing temps.  This has been great for the heating bill and great for outdoor activities, but horrible for the bees and the winter food stores.

We got a late start on our hive this summer as it was, thereby reducing the amount of honey they were able to make for themselves for winter.  We supplemented by making fondant and spreading it onto empty comb.  We also had made a winter box, just a box out of plywood that fit over the BeePod top bar hive to absorb the sun (warming the hive) and to protect the hive from the brisk winds we tend to get.  This has all made for a winter for these bees as if they all flew to St. Pete’s for the winter with the rest of the snowbirds.

I posted pics on here from he beginning of January of the bees out for their cleansing flights, a.k.a. potty breaks.  On nice days, bees leave the hive, stretch their wings, and go to the bathroom.  Not an unusual phenomenon.  Unless it’s January in Wisconsin.  What it did give me was a nice 50 degree day to crack the hive open, check an end over and look at where they were for remaining food supplies.  I made 3 or 4 more bars of fondant, and we were also able to supplement with popping the feeder board with the sugar-water mix during the day for a while.  I popped the shutter cover off a few days ago, and it was cold enough for them to be clustered, but it is obvious that the hive has gotten warm enough for them to be moving the fondant closer to the cluster.

So here we sit on March 5th just hoping for Spring to hurry up and come before their food supplies run out.  Today it got to about 35 degrees and there was a lot of corpse removal and a few ladies out for a short flight.  We have heard a lot of horror stories of hives that have dies off or that are completely diminished– so far we look to be fortunate enough to be very close to having our hive make it to Spring, if only the food holds out.  Then it is on to another guessing game of wintering versus over-wintering.

The Official Ordinance

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Here it is, in all it’s glory.. Ordinance 2012-1, the City of Port Washington, WI Beekeeping Ordinance.

As soon as the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF-1) is completed, I will post it.

As I said, we are pleased with it, find it very workable, and are extremely grateful for the time, energy and consideration that went into researching and drafting the ordinance.

This is what a bee-friendly ordinance looks like.  We are hoping that communities across the U.S. will take advantage of the work that was done and look to this particular ordinance when they are adopting urban beekeeping regulations.

WE DID IT!!!

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3+ months, hundreds of emails and phone calls, umpteen meetings and 1 beesentation later, and Port Washington, Wisconsin is the latest city to adopt an urban beekeeping ordinance!!

It was passed approximately 17 hours ago and I am still having a hard time wrapping my mind around it.  I keep waiting to wake up and I will still be stuck in local government purgatory, but it is official… Port is now bee-friendly!  :)

My mind is completely jumbled, full of emotion and excitement, and we are eager to start the individual licensing process.

Thank you all for your kind words and support during this long process.  As I have said many times, it is only with the help and support of others that we have been able to carry on, so thank you!

And a special thanks to fellow worker bee Chelsea at honeylove.org for the shout-out and awesome picture! YOU are the rockstar!

Bee Ordinance, Take III~ The End (Perhaps?)

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3.5 months later and here it is… tomorrow is the final reading of Port Washington’s urban beekeeping ordinance, complete with a vote.

At the last meeting, there were a few clarifications that the Aldermen had asked for, some minor changes, and I believe there have even been some last-minute changes as well just in the last few days.  The Aldermen requested a draft of what is called the Neighborhood Notification Form (NNF), which a beekeeping applicant will be required to have neighbors within a set radius of their property (it appears to be 200 feet) sign off and turn in to the City.  I have not seen the NNF nor the latest version of the ordinance– there is a fine line between wanting to be involved and becoming a pain in the rear end.  I am trying to find a good balance.

While I am looking forward to the vote tomorrow night, I am not nearly as relieved yet as I thought I would be.  Besides having to get this ordinance to pass, we will have to go into the individual licensing process.  With the NNF, if more than 30% of the neighbors object, it triggers a hearing in front of the City Council.  In addition, if 1 person in that area with a “demonstrable medical condition” caused by a bee sting objects, automatic hearing.  There will be fees, inspections, drawings, and meetings.  And even then, when we get our license (assuming we can and DO), we have to reapply annually, and if any property in that NNF radius changes hands, we have to go through the form with them as well.

Nevertheless, I have to focus on the bigger picture.  Beekeeping is not a solitary hobby; it is one where a community is built rapidly and relied on frequently.  In that aspect, tomorrow’s vote should be a complete victory, enabling citizens in Port Washington to be able to responsibly keep beehives on their property, helping the honeybee population, and pollination, but also helping us build a “hive” of fellow beekeepers right here in our back yard. We are excited about the possibilities that this opens up for our community!

So for now it’s one foot in front of the other, plodding along.  Tomorrow night is the vote, and then we are on to the next step of this saga.  Time to get our little ladies to go from felonious to law-abiding!  :)

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