What do you get when you combine two hives of very active, healthy bees with one very active, healthy two-year-old boy?
Nah, it’s not the set-up for a joke, just a setup for about a month’s worth of work on my part.
My bees are located about 10′ off the deck in our back yard, an easy stroll for a curious two-year-old. So, as Zevin’s crawling days started turning into toddling days, and his toddling started bringing him closer and closer to the hives (“beees! beees!”), I knew I had to do something about it. And if I couldn’t keep Mohamed away from the mountain, I figured I’d just have to move the mountain away from Mohamed.
Given our standard-sized Seattle backyard, where there was no “away” to move them to, I was left with “up”.
So, this past spring, Michelle, Zevin and I loaded up and headed down to The Rusty Rack Guys down in Pacific, WA to find us some used warehouse palette racks, the kind forklifts drop skids of lumber onto. I figured if it’s strong enough for skids of lumber, it’s strong enough for my girls.
We noodled a bit over size, finally opting for the 14′ high (higher is better, right?), 14′ long (roughly same length as the garage it was sitting against, plus that meant enough room to space the hives) and 3 1/2′ deep (enough room to walk around behind them). The infrastructure, plus enough cut lumber to line three layers of floor came to around $350. Not cheap, but such is the price of not having your two-year-old stung incessantly (or, worse, having to give up beekeeping).
Assembling the system was a bit of a trick because there was an active hive of bees sitting where the rack needed to be (only one of my two hives successfully overwintered), but I managed to get most of the work done without a bee suit by working during the cooler parts of the day and keeping my body low to the ground.
Here’s a slideshow of the construction, to make Bob Villa proud:
Now, you should know that I’m writing this some six or seven months after the work was done, so I’m a bit foggy on some of the details of what happened. For example, I didn’t remember what a horse’s ass I was to work in shorts and t-shirt this close to the bee hives. I mean, come on people, would you look at this? What was I thinking?
Anyhoo, it worked out fine, probably got one or two stings, max, in the whole procedure, and the result was fantastic. Not only are the hives safely out of Zevin’s reach (except when he follows me up the ladder), but the flight paths of the bees tend to take them horizontal and up, not down, meaning they’re not buzzing through people’s hair when we have backyard BBQ’s anymore. If I had one thing to change, I probably would have gone with a shorter rack, so that the top lined up with the edge of the garage roof without any extra metal protruding. Being able to use the roof for stacking things is handy.
Not to say that this has entirely solved the two-year-old v. bee problem. My bees do have mites, which means that there are a fair number of bees with slightly deformed wings crawling around in the grass. A barefoot two-year-old and a crawling bee make for an unpleasant combo, as Zevin (and I) have learned the hard way (“Da BEE! Da Bee! Owee!”), but he recovers remarkably quickly, typically going from crying to on-about-his-business inside of five minutes (thanks in part to the shaker of meat tenderizer we keep on hand to treat the sting).
Of course, the other benefit of moving the hives up was that it meant we had a big space underneath the hives to do something with. And what was that something?