Greenwood beekeeper builds her own hives

by | Mar 6, 2013

By Sarah DeVleming, UW News Lab

There is something unique in the backyard of Trish Bondurant and Amanda Laughtland’s Greenwood home. Nestled among the trees and foliage is a large beehive that Bondurant, a woodworking teacher, crafted herself, copying another hive she ordered online.

Beehive-resizedIn the spring and summer, Bondurant’s hive will literally be buzzing with activity, as thousands of bees in the colony create rich combs of honey and tend to the queen. With all the activity going on, she said the internal temperature of the hive hovers around 95 degrees.

Bondurant’s bees are Italian honeybees, although there are many different varieties that beekeepers can use. She and Laughtland also have a blog, Hands Off Bees. Laughtland is the primary poster on the blog, writing about their own beekeeping, as well as offering reviews and discussions of what’s going on in the bee community. The blog features photos of their hive as well.

Bondurant has kept bees for only a few years, but it was something she wanted to do for a long time. She got into the hobby in the spring of 2010, when the Portland Waldorf School held a workshop on beekeeping. The workshop specialized in natural beekeeping methods, something Bondurant was drawn to.

“It was [led] by Gunther Hauk,” Bondurant said. “He’s been a beekeeper for probably about 25 years.”

Hauk is a well-known figure in the national bee community. He wrote the book “Toward Saving the Honeybee” and is one of the inspirations for the film “Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees telling Us?”

After the workshop, Bondurant researched hive options and decided to use a Warré hive, a more sustainable, natural alternative to the traditional Langstroth beehive, which is used by most beekeepers throughout the world.

Bondurant purchased a Warré hive off the Internet, but delays in shipping resulted in the hive not arriving until late summer. By then, it was too late for that season.

Instead, she assembled the hive and began to prepare for spring, when she could pick up a package of bees to populate it with.

Bondurant purchased her bees from The Beez Neez in Snohomish, where a three-pound package of bees, consisting of a queen bee and thousands of honeybees, costs around $100. Bee pickup day usually occurs in April.

Once the bees have been purchased, they must be fed with sugar water, as there is no honeycomb for them to eat yet. Then, the process of hiving the bees begins.

“It’s kind of intense,” Bondurant said. “There are all these bees everywhere and they are really confused.”

Bees-resizedTo properly hive the bees, Bondurant first puts the queen bee in and then essentially dumps in the rest of the bees, which are naturally drawn to the queen. It can take all night for the bees to eventually settle in, she explained.

Once the bees are all in the hive, they create a strong bond with the queen and begin to build their colony.

Unfortunately, Bondurant’s bees have yet to make it through the winter. She said bees do not like the rain, and it is necessary to have a very strong hive in order to make it year round. Many times, they leave the hive to die.

“There is always a die off in the fall, but you always want a core [group of bees] to make it through,” Bondurant said. “They don’t really go dormant [in the winter], but they slow way down.”

This year, Bondurant plans to feed her bees extra sugar water, in addition to the honey, in hopes they will make it to the New Year.

Although The Beez Neez has scheduled this year’s bee pickup day for April 17, owner Jim Punnell isn’t positive if that will be the final date. The bees are shipped up from a commercial beekeeper in the Redding, CA, area, and several factors influence the timing.

“One of the problems is that … it depends on how warm the weather is down there,” Punnell said. “In order to get queen bees mated, you have to have 70 degrees and sunny and calm weather.”

Last year, Punnell sold 900 bee packages on bee pickup day. Punnell hopes that the bees will arrive on time, but sometimes it depends on the bees themselves.

“If they don’t mate inside the hive, they go out to the local honeybee singles bar a couple miles away from the hive,” Punnell added with a laugh.

Despite common misconceptions about bees, Bondurant and Laughtland have had few negative encounters with them.

“They’re very calm,” Laughtland said. “They’re just hanging out.”

Bondurant, who wears a high thread-count bee suit when she interacts with the bees, has only been stung twice.

In addition to beekeeping, Bondurant has also begun building Warré hives that she hopes to sell. They run about $350. So far she has built four; at least one has been donated to a high school auction.

Bondurant also believes that beekeeping as a hobby is becoming more prominent. While she knows about six through the Waldorf School, there are many more in Seattle. City regulations allow up to four hives on properties of 10,000 square feet or less. Bondurant hopes to add a second hive this summer.

“I think it’s becoming more popular,” Bondurant said.

The Puget Sound Beekeepers Association has a membership of more than 200, according to its website. Bondurant knows about six backyard beekeepers personally through the Waldorf School.

Nationally, beekeeping is growing in popularity. The awareness of the decline of bees and beehives in the past few decades has caused a resurgence in the hobby of beekeeping. Awareness has been spread by those such as Hauk, as well as by organizations like the American Beekeepers Association.

Laughtland added that Warré hives are especially low maintenance, and fit in well with people who are interested in backyard gardening.

Even though the sweet honey the bees produce is a nice bonus, Laughtland believes Bondurant has different motives for her unique hobby.

“Trish’s purpose isn’t so much about the honey,” Laughtland said. “It’s more [about] having bees have a natural home and having bees in the neighborhood.”

Sarah DeVleming is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.

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