Every once in a while I have to step away from the internet for my own sanity, no matter how much my job relies on it. When the negative comments and thankless work starts weighing me down, I step outside and find something to touch that brings me joy. By an odd turn of events, that’s how I became an amateur caretaker of wild bees.
Join me on my adventure as I learn a little at a time and decide how deep into this area of homesteading I really want to dive. If the project goes well, then my goal would be to, of course, collect honey, encourage better pollination for my garden and fruit trees, and maybe even use the wax for some beauty products and home goods. If it goes REALLY well, then perhaps I can offset some of our homesteading costs with the sale of products and goods that result from my experience.
How I got started:
My rural neighbors moved away over two years ago, abandoning their property as well as two bee box hives just over our unfenced property line. While I have no interest in removing anything from this abandoned property, I noticed over time that the hives were beginning to break down, rot, and show signs of attracting unwanted pests and guests. Not to mention nearly getting swallowed by the surrounding weeds and overgrown shrubbery.
As a beginning homesteader myself, maintaining an apiary is something I’ve looked into, but I just couldn’t justify the startup expense for hives, supplies, and tools this early in our property buildout, so I kept putting it off. Imagine my surprise when one day I was walking the property line and saw that while one of the neighbors’ neglected hives had been knocked over and seemed overrun with ants and other bugs, the other hive had a steady flow of worker bees coming and going by the dozens. This hive is alive!
I spent the next couple of weeks observing and learning what I could about what I assume is a wild colony, and reading up online about the care and maintenance of an abandoned domestic hive setup. As it turns out, while people relocate honeybees from all kinds of places like sheds, water meters, and even old cars and houses, there’s not a lot of information about what to do with a proper bee box that’s gone feral. Since I don’t intend on moving these hives, and just want to make sure that if they’re going to be occupied, they might as well be healthy, I decided to trust my intuition and do what I thought made sense. These are the rules I am following:
- Keep it clean.
- Keep it safe.
- Touch the hives as little as possible
Keeping it clean:
My very first challenge was actually getting safe access to the hives. As I mentioned, the acreage surrounding the bee boxes is overgrown with weeds, brush, and saplings up to 10 feet high. There are also a TON of wildflowers that I didn’t want to put at risk, and I don’t fool around with herbicides anyhow, so manual cleanup was the way to go. I suited up in the most complete-coverage clothing I had, grabbed a weedwhacker and some hedge trimmers, and created a small path to the bee boxes. Then I cleared a 6-foot circle directly surrounding the hives, leaving all healthy tree saplings in place for shade but opening up access to the bee yard area that is hazard-free for me and unattractive to roaming wildlife for the bees. Now I can see the flight of the bumblebee(s) in full glory as they come and go.
Keeping it safe:
Next up, I had to spend a little money before I took another step. I ordered a bee bonnet and a smoker with the proper recommended pellets. I didn’t want to startle the bees, nor get myself stung, so safety is a priority on both sides.
Now that I was suited up and I could calm the workers, I was able to get in and really inspect the insides of the boxes without risking injury to myself or the bees.
Understanding the Hive:
As I continued my journey into the world of wild bees, I realized the importance of understanding the hive dynamics and the unique challenges that come with caring for a feral colony. While this endeavor didn’t require a hefty investment in hives, it did demand an investment of time and knowledge.
Observation became my most valuable tool. I spent hours quietly watching the bees, trying to comprehend their behavior and communication. It was fascinating to witness the intricate dance they performed to communicate the location of nearby nectar sources, and to be honest, it was a great break from the often unforgiving world of online content creation. Gradually, I began to distinguish between the worker bees, the drones, and, of course, the queen, who seemed to be the heart and soul of the colony. I also managed to identify a HUGE problem they were having. Both hive stacks were overrun with wax moth coccoons!
Adopting a Hands-Off Approach:
I knew I didn’t want to interfere too much with the natural order of things. After all, these bees had thrived in their feral state without human intervention for quite some time. Instead, I decided to adopt a mostly hands-off approach, intervening only when absolutely necessary for their well-being.
One of my essential early tasks was ensuring the bees had access to clean water since it’s been hotter than Hades out here. I placed shallow dishes filled with water near the hives, making it easier for the bees to stay hydrated, especially during hot summer days. Additionally, I took the advice of the internet and mixed up some sugar water to feed back to the bees as a thank you for their patience and to supplement the food sources available to them.
In the case of the wax moths, I started with the un-inhabited bee box by taking it home, scraping every inch of the inside to remove the cocoons, then wire-brushed every inner surface to remove the sticky silky threads. I followed that up with with a heat gun to sterilize any microscopic remainders without compromising the integrity of the wood. Once these were fully cleaned, I was able to set the bee boxes back up, then VERY carefully move the frames from the busier box over to the newly-cleaned box, and repeat the cleaning process on the second setup. In the process of moving the frames, the bees were very calm and didn’t seem bothered at all, but a fat chunk of honey-filled comb fell right onto my tool tray, so I was able to take that home and extract the honey as a reward.
The Sweet Rewards:
As the early season passed, my patience and respect for nature paid off. The bees, in their autonomous wisdom, pollinated my garden and fruit trees abundantly. I watched with awe as my single apple tree was magically cross-pollinated, thanking the industrious bees for their hard work since I now have dozens of apples growing where they normally wouldn’t.
At the end of summer I plan on opening the hives back up and clearing about 1/3rd of the honey and combs for my use, ensuring there will be plenty left for the bees to sustain themselves through the winter months.
Sharing the Journey:
Throughout this wild beekeeping adventure, I’m documenting my experiences and learnings on TikTok which has been hugely beneficial as it attracts other beekeepers who watch my videos and chime in providing valuable advice.
A Thriving Partnership:
As time passed, my bond with the bees is growing stronger. I no longer see myself as their caretaker but as a partner in their thriving community. They, too, seemed to recognize my presence and accept it with gentle tolerance, buzzing lazily around me as I visit them each day and tell them the latest news from my world.
While I had initially wondered how deep I wanted to dive into this world of wild bees, the answer had become clear—I’m here for the long haul. The rewards of witnessing their resilience and the interconnectedness of our ecosystem were too precious to abandon, and the satisfaction of working on something tactile with measurable rewards has been a great salve to any feelings of content-creation burnout that my day job might cause.
As I continue on this journey, I hope to expand my knowledge of beekeeping and contribute to the preservation of these incredible creatures. Perhaps in the future, I will take on a more active role in managing hives, but for now, I am content with being a humble observer and protector of my wild bee companions.
If you’re considering embarking on a similar adventure, my advice is to start by simply observing and learning from these fascinating creatures. Allow them to be your teachers, and you’ll discover that wild bees have an innate wisdom that can guide your steps as a caretaker and steward of nature.
Thank you for joining me on this wild beekeeping adventure. Together, let’s celebrate the magic of the bees and the beauty of our natural world!
This post is not sponsored, nor is it trying to sell you anything. However, if you would like to support my shenanigans in one way or another, feel free to check out my Links page and visit any of the partners that I am currently working with, where I’m sure you’ll find some mutual interest. Cheers!