The Accidental Beekeepers

Shortly after we moved into our house in Topanga a few years back, I bought an owl house. I had read that attracting owls to your property was one of the best ways to keep the rodent population in check. Barn owls will eat two to three rodents a night; a nesting pair with chicks up to 10 a night — that’s over 3,000 a year! So I climbed high in the oak tree outside our bedroom window and secured the owl house onto a branch.

Our honey

It took about a year before an owl moved in. It was the tiniest owl you’d ever seen — no match for an angry vermin. It stayed about 10 days. Every night, it would hoot away merrily in its owl box, sounding confident it had found the best house in the neighborhood. But disappointed, I suspect, with its inability to attract a mate to its new digs, it departed. That’s when the bees moved in.

My wife woke me one night around midnight. “There’s something in the owl house!” We turned on the lights outside and watched. It looked like a big clump of fur sticking out of the hole, and we wondered if a raccoon had gotten itself stuffed inside and couldn’t get out. I got the binoculars. With my new precision vision, I could see that the entire surface was moving, and it was not fur. “Bees,” I said.

At first, we were in a bit of a panic. How would we get rid of the hive?? Then days went by followed by weeks… and before we knew it, the hive had been there a year. The bees minded their own business, and given the problems bee colonies are facing around the world, we figured a healthy hive couldn’t be a bad thing. We always wished we could somehow get to the honey. But we were content with watching the bees come and go, pollinating the flowers and vegetables in our gardens.

Fast forward another couple years, and my wife comes sprinting up from the downstairs office in distress. “The hive fell!!” she said, breathless. We rushed down to view the wreckage from a distance. Even though we were a good ways away, one particularly angry bee found me and tagged me on my ear — which swelled up like a thick slab of ham — as if to say, “Secure the owl house better next time, jerk.”

After a few days, the bees got on with their lives and dispersed. Gingerly, swollen ear in tow, I crept down and began cautiously shooing away the determined hold outs to clear the wreckage away. And I realized there was still quite a bit of honey in certain of the combs. I harvested the pieces I could, cleaned them of dirt and oak leaves and dead bees, and strained them over a fine sieve. We wound up with about half a mason jar of honey. I’ve never completely understood how bees make something so wonderful as honey — I guess I could read an explanation somewhere online, but I prefer to think it’s some sort of arthropod alchemy. We were all thrilled to sample our own honey, served in our favorite way — drizzled luxuriously over fluffy Greek yogurt.

I felt bad having to smash the wax combs and destroy all the bees’ hard work. Even after the ear incident, I’m thinking about keeping bees in a less accidental fashion. Getting a few hive boxes and one of those groovy suits. There’s something deeply satisfying about harvesting your own honey, similar to gathering eggs from your own chickens. Now if I could just find an old Greek dude to apprentice with and learn to make that yogurt…

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    May 03, 2011 @ 01:42:30

    How old a guy are ye looking for?

    Reply

  2. g
    May 03, 2011 @ 22:56:08

    Mmmmmm……egg custard with honey and Greek yogurt. Just the thing for a girl on a stomach-healthy fixed diet…..!

    Reply

  3. Andy
    May 04, 2011 @ 04:44:43

    so cute.

    Reply

  4. Ben
    May 05, 2011 @ 16:34:55

    I think that you’re baiting with that last line about the Greek dude, but you know you just have to whisk some cream and whole-milk yogurt together and strain in cheesecloth for a day or so, right?

    Still on the vegan cleanse but you’ll be elated that I’m flying to the East coast tomorrow for a wedding. There will be much drinking of ethanol and eating of flesh.

    Reply

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