Chickens and Bees

I’ve been meaning to write about my burgeoning urban farm (I’d say homestead, but I’m just not there yet–though it’s my ultimate goal to have one). The other night, I picked up a nuc of bees, and I figure it’s now time to share a little with you.

I’ve wanted bees since I was 8 years old and did my animal research report on bees. What little I learned then, nurtured a growing love and interest for bees. Where my friends had bee fear, I had none. I loved their diligence and found their worker hierarchy endlessly interesting. My uncle on my mom’s side was a chicken farmer and chicken veterinarian. I remember seeing his farm of chickens and being intimidated by the raw number of cheeping chicks and squawking hens. But I was struck and interested, once again–they had entered my psyche and my world and were no longer a foreign thing but a farm animal to be grown and nurtured.

Then I visited my friend Novella Carpenter’s urban farm about ten years ago–and that made me want to undertake an urban farm and get some chickens.

My husband-at-the-time was firmly opposed. He wanted a strictly ornamental, well-manicured garden. And he wasn’t too hot about livestock, let alone the two tomato plants I did have that ended up attracting rats, to his great dismay. So those plans were on hold indefinitely. Until they were not.

Now that he and I are estranged, I’ve decided to live out my dreams and liberation in the form of an urban farm. The first Spring after he and I separated, I started by planting food plants in dirt pots (I didn’t have any energy or time for more than that). A few strawberries, a blueberry bush, and some herbs. Literally, I was so exhausted from heartbreak and depression and an infant I couldn’t fathom the idea of hauling in dirt and compost and making extensive beds.

But I did get chickens that year and set up a rudimentary coop. That flock (named after the women of The Great Gatsby: Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle)–was slaughtered by raccoons months later.

But there was still the garden. The next Spring, I pulled out a few ornamentals and put in a few vegetable beds. I grew a bunch of tomatoes and tomatillos. I had fun canning sauces.

I was determined and we got another flock; soon after, foxes moved into our neighborhood and slaughtered the next hens (Princesses this time, in honor of my daughter’s obsession with princesses (alas!)–Aurora, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White), too. I was very sad. I was also very guilt ridden for not having done better. But at least the foxes (unlike the raccoons) eat chickens they seize. So there was some solace in being part of the natural food chain. And it was bittersweet to see the fox babies (two kits).

My boyfriend and I took a break from chickens until we knew we could get together a completely fox-proof coop setup. I know mistakes are inevitable, but I try very hard to avoid making the same ones.

We pulled out more ornamentals, raised the beds we had, supplemented our clay and alkaline soil with compost and fertilizer, and had a productive vegetable garden. And built a better coop situated in a more secure spot where the edge of the run could sit on concrete and the chickens themselves were on soil–thereby making it impossible for a fox to dig under and into the run.

We used the eglu cube from omlet and attached walk-in chicken run with a skirt–it worked for us and was the easiest most straightforward solution for our needs.

We got more chickens. They are secure in that coop; I’ve seen the male fox on top of the coop’s roof. And I’ve seen the female fox jump against the side of the coop–but the chickens were safe. It was nice to see it QA’d and safe.

With the vegetable garden working out, and the chickens safe, I decided it was time to get bees, a part of my plan since the first days of gardening in dirt pots. So I ordered a nuc this past winter from Biofuel Oasis, very gentle bees from Randy Oliver’s farm up in Grass Valley. And I went to my favorite urban farm store, Pollinate Farm and Garden, in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood where I got my hive setup and bee suit and tools with the guidance of the shop’s owner Yolanda, one of my very favorite resources for urban farming matters. She and I have become friends over the years, from years ago when we had a random email exchange about making kimchi.

And then the bees arrived on Saturday night! There were over 50 of us excited and ready to pick up bees. The hives each got wrapped up in sheets we were told to bring in for the drive home. It was exciting to set up the hive. I mean–because I ordered nucs in a deep super, it was mostly about setting the box on a hive stand, but STILL. It was nighttime! We were bringing home bees in the dark! There they were!

And for the past two days, I’ve been in love with them, and checking on them every few hours, sitting by the hive and watching the activity around the boxes. I did go into the hive once, out of complete curiosity–but otherwise have left the hive alone to build comb and do the work of making a home here.

Gah, I love bees. Guys, I AM LIVING MY BEST LIFE.

Bees make me feel lazy. They’re constantly at work. The only reason they sting you is because you’ve gotten in the way of their work. Their entire life cycle is comprised of jobs: feeding, building comb, guarding, foraging. They spend their last few weeks foraging and usually die outside the hive, pooped out from…well, working.

I’ve made a few mistakes with chickens. And I am a total newbie to bees. Don’t ask me anything about beekeeping just yet, because I’ve just begun. In fact, I’d welcome a mentor familiar with beekeeping in the bay area. I’m *obsessed* with Tim the Bee Man on youtube; I suspect he and I don’t have much in common, but I am drawn to his passion for bees and his general charisma.

I love my bees and am curious and feel so much better when near them. I like their buzzing. I may set up a bench near them to read and write in the shade of the southern magnolia, hoping their hard work rubs off on my writing.

I’m also so tempted to put up a series of youtube videos on beekeeping. NOT a “how to” (since I’m very much learning), but really just a “sharing/how am I doing, master beekeepers? Thoughts? Feedback?” series.

Here’s a video I made for a friend about the chickens and bees, that I decided to share here and on youtube:

3 Comments

  1. Christine, this is fabulous! I’m so jealous of your chicken-raising, bee-keeping life! <3

  2. I think this is going to be a lot of fun for all of us. To keep their bees from wandering, beekeepers feed them sugar. Is that so?

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