Backyard beekeeping

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My home is richly blessed with three kids, two rescue dogs, five bunnies and, on good years, five beehives. Believe it or not, the bees are usually the easiest and most predictable of our charges to care for.

We started keeping bees several years ago, when we lived in our church parsonage in East Wenatchee and our kids were just babies. Most people in the neighborhood didn’t even know they were there. Even after a couple of unexpected swarms, they were pretty good tenants of the church grounds. (Certainly better than the goats kept by a previous pastor, but that’s a story for another day.)

My husband has been fascinated by beekeeping ever since interning at a monastery that tended bees while he was in college. We met a beekeeper selling honey at the farmer’s market in Wenatchee one Saturday and, after visiting his farm in Monitor, bought an old hive off him and got started.

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After moving out to a more rural area near Rock Island, we added more hives on our half acre. Over the years, we’ve lost a few hives to various winter and parasitic conditions, and gained a few by either splitting ours or catching swarms that presumably come from the surrounding orchards.

I am still not perfectly comfortable around the bees. But my kids, who have been around them all their lives, are not afraid at all. They take part in all aspects of the operation, from routine inspection of the hives to harvesting and packaging the honey.

Here are a few tips for involving your kids in beekeeping:

  • Gear up: Make sure they have protective equipment that fits them. Our kids have hats, veils, gloves and body suits. You don’t have to buy expensive outfits. Just have them wear thick clothes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, socks and closed-toe shoes. But you should invest in the bee hat and veil.
  • Prepare for stings: Our kids have never been stung while tending our bees. But one of them was stung after crashing his tricycle into the front of the hive. We use a paste of baking soda and water, which quickly knocks down the sting.
  • Easy jobs: Give your kids easy ways to help. My kids operate the smoker, hold tools for their dad, and turn the handle on the honey extractor.
  • Have fun: Beekeeping teaches kids to love and respect the natural word, so let them explore. If they want to just watch the bees, or if they are distracted by a praying mantis and wander away (that gets my kids every time), it’s all good.

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Tending bees has been a fun learning experience for my family. We’ve researched and added more bee-friendly flowers and plants into our gardens. When bees occasionally get into the house, we tenderly catch them and set them free. We even housed about 50,000 confused bees in our attached garage (inside a large tablesaw box) one night after my husband captured a huge swarm at a friend’s house in a blinding rain storm and couldn’t move it into a hive box outside until the rain let up the next morning. Let’s just say I didn’t sleep super soundly that night.

If you’re interested in backyard beekeeping, there is a North Central Washington Beekeepers Association that offers classes bees and provides other support. (The also have a Facebook page.)

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