Bluff Park Bees
By Heather , Bluffparkal.org
Shannon Vann did not expect to
have two bee hives buzzing in the front yard of her Bluff Park home a year
ago. "This is my first year, and these are my first two hives and it's all
because of pumpkins”, she says. Pumpkins? The family started a vegetable
garden last year, also a first time project. Amidst the tomatoes and beans,
Shannon decided to try pumpkins. "I had a lot of blooms and very healthy
vines, but only one pumpkin. We did some research and discovered that female
pumpkin flowers are only open for about a day and have to be pollinated to
grow a pumpkin. I realized we did not have a lot of honey bees in our yard."
The lack of bees was the issue with the empty vines. "The more I researched
and learned about bees, the more interested I became in them," Shannon says.
Beekeeping involves maintaining the honey bee colonies in hives. A beekeeper
not only keeps bees in order to collect honey but also to pollinate crops.
Modern beekeepers use an extractor that removes the cells of the honeycomb
without causing any damage to the hive.
"A childhood friend took me through her beekeeping journey and encouraged me
to find a beekeeper’s association and take a class." Almost every county in
Alabama has a beekeeper's association. The Jefferson County Beekeeper's
Association meets at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens (www.jeffcobees.org)
and Shelby County Beekeeper's Association meets in Chelsea (www.shelbybees.org)
Shannon joined the Shelby County group and started her own journey into
"What I didn't expect was for there to be science involved. I have an
English degree but there I sat, in the Shelby County Senior Center, learning
about the life cycle of the bee, how honey is made, what flowers were good
for honeybees, what chemicals not to use, how to build a beehive, how to
make sugar syrup for bees, what diseases and pests to look for, and all
about the queen. She's rather a big deal," Shannon says.
So where does a new beekeeper get bees for the new hive? Pick up the phone.
"I would like one box of bees, please." Yes, bee enthusiasts can mail order
bees. "Anyone can order a box of bees. You can order them on the internet
from a supplier and they'll ship them to your door through the postal
service." Shannon says. Bees come in a three to five pound box of loose bees
with a queen in a cage. The bees are not from the same original hive and are
not yet loyal to this queen. This is the only way bees can be shipped across
Another option is to find a local supplier who sells nucleus hives, also
known as Nucs. A Nuc is a small hive of bees, about five frames of brood,
workers, and a queen bee. This option gives the keeper a hive of bees
already working together as a unit.
To collect honey, beekeepers need a veiled helmet for protection, a tool for
cutting the comb, and a smoker for tranquilizing the bees. Keepers are also
responsible for maintaining the hive by protecting the colony against
dangers like diseases, parasites, and predators.
"I get into the hives about every 10 days to check on everything, and I'm
feeding them this year. I'll leave any honey on the hive to help them get
through the winter. The whole goal this year is to build strong, healthy
"This has absolutely been the most fun I've ever had with a hobby," Shannon
says. Although her pumpkins did not come out as planned this year, the rest
of her garden did very well and Shannon has found a new hobby and
educational experience for her family. "Our hives are in our yard where our
children play. My 6 year old loves wearing her dad's veil and helping me.
She holds my hive tool and helps me identify larvae and honey on the
There are at least three other beekeepers in the Bluff Park area and many
more in Hoover.
"We have decided to name our queens like the weather service names
hurricanes.” Currently reigning over the Vann hives in Bluff Park are Agnes
and Bellatrix. Oddly enough, Bellatrix's bees are slightly more aggressive
than Agnes’ bees. “We'll keep that in mind when naming future queens!”,
Photos courtesy of the Vann Family