Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of spring in my new hometown, Park City, Utah. The ground has thawed, the likelihood of frost and freezing temperature is minimal and planting can begin (gardeners must still be prepared with a frost blankets for what I hear is a typical July snow storm). I am native Californian who has long dreamed of living in the snowy mountains and am proud to have survived my first winter!
My home is actually on the outskirts of Park City. While it is just a 10 minute drive into town to ski or shop, it is another world. The homes are far apart, many neighbors have horses as well as goats, sheep and alpaca. Moose live in the surrounding hills, a herd of elk winters in the neighborhood and deer stroll through gardens and pastures. I have been warned by all that this abundant wildlife coupled with the short growing season will present a serious challenge to creating a successful kitchen garden. Nevertheless, I have begun my experiment in creating a small mountain farm to supply Mindful Cuisine cooking classes with a fresh and local ingredients.
I decided begin my farming with beekeeping. Last January, I signed up for a community education beekeeping class. As of today, I have been a beekeeper for about 2 weeks! While supporting bees and their role as pollinators is my primary objective, I hope some day to harvest honey to make treats as beautiful and delicious as the honey based dessert in the picture that is served at Broadway in Laguna Beach, CA.
After learning about various types of beehives, I chose the Warre hive which like a Top Bar hive let the bees build honeycomb in their own way but are much easier to keep warm in the winter. I also chose the Warre hive because they are built by a neighboring beekeeper in Park City - Stewart from Red Fox Farm. Besides crafting two beautiful hives, he came to help me choose a location for the hives, set them up and was my copilot in installing the bees. Both Stewart and his partner Britte are clearly passionate about bees and generous with their knowledge. Their enthusiasm helps me overcome my apprehensiveness about working so closely with bees. The picture shows my hives facing southeast to capture the morning sun and sheltered from frequent winds by a copse of scrub oaks. I know the left side looks a bit unstable but the base is level and quite secure. The lavender flowers are catmint which I planted for the bees as not too many flowers have started blooming. I have been told that bees are crazy about catmint. I hope they enjoy it! See the pile of rocks I had to dig out to plant those tiny bushes.
The evening I put the bees in the hive was full of intermittent thundershowers. The bees had arrived the previous weekend when the thundershowers were even more intense. Bees do not like the rain so Doug Fryer, the beekeeping instructor had us postpone putting them in the hives for a week. After waiting a week the bees needed to be out of their traveling cages into the hive regardless of the weather. I’m disappointed that I have no pictures of that momentous event with me in my full bee suit pouring bees in the hives. I was so absorbed in the task that pictures were the last thing on my mind. One hive has Italian bees and the other hive has Carniolan bees. The Italian bees are supposed to be the calmest and easiest for new beekeepers. The Carniolan, while they may more aggressively defend their hive, tend to be better at going out and harvesting nectar on cooler or overcast days.
One really cool thing about these Warre hives is that each box has a removable panel with a window behind it. Through the window I can see what the bees are working on and identify any problems without opening the hive and disturbing the bees. It is kind of tricky to craw behind the hives and under the scrub oaks to take a picture and I always end up with a glare spot. You can see the bees on this sunny morning busily building honeycomb.