Oliver O’Donnell’s Hobby Keeps Him Busy as a Bee
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When he was in fifth grade at Palisades Charter Elementary School, Oliver O’Donnell had to write a weekly report on a current event and he happened upon a news piece about the bee population declining in the United Kingdom. It sparked his interest and now, less than two years later, he is an aspiring apiculturist learning the ins and outs of beekeeping.
O’Donnell has an apiary in his backyard in the Alphabet Streets, and through trial and error, this inquisitive 12-year-old is learning how to maintain a healthy colony. He lives for bees and has even spoken for an event at the Pacific Palisades Garden Club.
“At first I didn’t know much about it and I thought I could just get a box in my backyard,” he said. “I found out more and tried building my own hive. I convinced my mom to buy a beehive because it’s hard to catch a swarm in the wild.”
O’Donnell took Beekeeper 101 classes in the San Fernando Valley for several months and the same place he went to for lessons sold him some bees, shipped from Northern California. He remembers going to pick them up and getting back late at night.
“The bees come with a nuc box—a small box of five frames one-foot wide by half a foot long with a miniature outlined honeycomb shape,” he described. “The queen is already in there, which makes it easier to get started for beginners. We put it on top of our box in the backyard and our box was bigger than the nuc.
“After a few weeks they started to build on that, but sadly in August we did a home test with powdered sugar but the bees starting dying off. We had to get a new queen and introduce her to the hive.”
Using a wooden nuc box for the first five weeks is an effective way to start as it allows the colony to retain heat during the cool spring evenings. You can start a new colony with two or three frames of bees from a donor colony and allow the donor colonies to continue to thrive.
A nuc box also keeps the colony focused because there is reduced room inside. This also allows the queen to lay more brood (eggs), and there is far less brood loss when the beekeeper uses a nuc box.
“Once all of the frames are combed out, you will want to move the frames into the new hive brood box,” he explained. “Keep these frames together if it’s below 50 degrees at night. Then, a week later you can ‘checker board’ the frames. It’s important to feed your bees with a 1:1 sugar/water ratio for at least five weeks to let the colony ‘comb out’ the new foundation. Mine are Italian honeybees, which are a more docile type and good for beginners because they’re pretty resistant to diseases.”
O’Donnell’s first hive lasted five to six months. He has since gotten another and it has lasted nearly four months. He estimated it has grown to between 40,000 and 50,000 bees. If it makes it through this winter he is hopeful this hive will live two to three years.
“The one we got was pretty expensive … the nuc itself is $200 and the swarm is $100,” he said. “The only other things you may need are the chemicals to treat them and sugar syrup you give them when they first start growing. Next year, we’ll get quite a bit of honey. I’ve seen videos where they can get up to 140 pounds of honey from one harvest. Here, we’ll get from 50 to 80 pounds in a good year. I’m assuming we’ll have extra after giving to our neighbors, friends and family.”
A rising seventh-grader at Paul Revere Charter Middle School, O’Donnell has long since gotten over the fear of bee stings.
“I got stung a few times—the second time I put my hand on a bee, but the stinger was still in there and it got infected,” he recalled. “Then I got stung in the neck and had a bad reaction, and it turns out I’m allergic. I get these shots so I’m more immune now. I used to be scared of them and would run away if I saw one, but not anymore.”
When he is not busy maintaining his hive, O’Donnell is playing in the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association. He was a pitcher and outfielder on this summer’s 12U All-Star team that advanced all the way to the PONY Super Regional round in West Covina.
He goes to sailing camp on Sundays in the marina where they sail all day long on different types of boats. He also enjoys hiking and has made some interesting discoveries.
“When I open up the hive I look inside to see what they’re doing, and it’s neat watching them build the honeycomb and seeing how fast they can build,” he said. “It takes quite a lot of nectar and it’s interesting to see the ways bees affect the flowers around here. You’d be surprised how many beekeepers are around. I go hiking in Temescal Canyon and I’ve counted 12 beehives in the waterfall hike. I thought it was a rare thing to do.”
O’Donnell lives with his parents, Peter and Tanya, and his 16-year-old sister Elsa, who attends Palisades Charter High School and is an intern at the Palisadian-Post. They have a 5-year-old golden retriever named Gus, who despite sniffing all around the hive, has somehow managed to stay sting-free—at least as far as they know.
“The neighbors are actually pretty good about it—in fact the people next door do floral decorations and have fruit trees, so they’re happy to have a hive near them,” O’Donnell said. “Normally they have inspections once a week, but beginners with smaller hives do it more often. Some people do it every three weeks.”
One thing is certain—O’Donnell’s new hobby is more than a mere “buzz” word and the satisfaction he derives from it is sweeter than honey.
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