My first season of beekeeping

My first season of beekeeping.

Several people have asked about my bees and my first season of beekeeping so I thought I would share some photos my daughter, Claire, took of a hive inspection yesterday. When I’m working alone, I don’t have enough hands to take photos very easily, and I haven’t yet created a setup like some beekeepers to take video. Maybe I will someday, but now, I’m doing good to hold the frames, smoke the hive and watch out for the small insects.

They don’t always take kindly to being disturbed.

Lighting my smoker.
Lighting my smoker.

Beekeeping has its own language.

The first thing I had to learn was all the different beekeeping terminology. Just like gardening, beekeeping has its own language. I may mention one or more of these terms throughout this post so I want to explain them as best I can.

Hives are the structures you place your colony in so when you refer to your colony, you’re referring to the bees themselves. The hive is where they live. A Langstroth hive is composed of many parts, but usually has a bottom board, two hive bodies (sometimes called boxes, deeps or mediums) and one or more supers for honey. Supers are not usually as deep as a hive body because they hold the beekeeper’s honey, and capped (finished) honey is heavy stuff.  The Langstroth hive also has an inner cover, a base, the top cover and a queen excluder. Hive bodies may have ten frames or eight frames, and they are very heavy when filled with honey, brood, and bees.

[Click on the photos in the galleries to enlarge them.]

A full hive inspection.

I try to do at least a partial hive inspection every two weeks, and I visually look in on the bees almost daily watching them going to and from the hive. I can often tell what is going on in the hive just by watching their front door. For example, if we’re having very hot weather, many of the bees will hang out on the outside of the hive to give the nurse bees and their brood space for better airflow. Other bees will use their wings to fan the front of the hive. In the evenings, there is often a traffic jam as the bees return to the hive, the pollen baskets on their legs and their honey stomachs full of pollen and honey for the colony.

By our pond, I watched on a really hot day as worker bees sucked up water and carried it back to the hive. Water is also used to cool the hive.

The day before yesterday, I opened the entire hive down to the bottom hive body and did a full inspection. We’re two-thirds of the way through summer. I was trying to ascertain whether the queen was laying well, and just generally, whether the colony was happy and thriving. They are, although I’m not sure if they might be a little honey bound. I did see the queen for the first time since the bees released her from her queen cage. The queen bee is very shy and moves very fast. Sometimes, it’s hard to find her, and she, being the most important bee in the colony, you don’t want to accidentally squish her.

Bees can become honey bound and then the queen doesn’t have anywhere to lay. My beekeeping mentor, Pat White, told me to try putting on the super (the smallest box on top) without a queen excluder and check on things in a week. This is to prevent the bees from possibly swarming this fall, or not raising enough brood to get through winter.

Not the most flattering picture, but it does show the entire hive yesterday. I'm getting ready to take off the top cover, and next to me are the super and its more shallow frames. Beekeepers only take honey from the super.
Not the most flattering picture, but it does show the entire hive yesterday. I’m getting ready to take off the top cover, and next to me are the super and its more shallow frames. Beekeepers only take honey from the super. I’m moving the queen excluder and my top rock out of my way.

Beekeeping keeps a red-dirt girl humble. I feel like I learn one thing and then forget two things every time I go out to the hive and check on my little colony. In late March, I started with one package of bees. Knowing what I know now, I would buy two packages or nucs because you can sometimes solve problems with one hive with frames of brood from another. A three-pound package of bees has about 10,000 bees and a mated queen whom they don’t know. That’s why you carefully introduce her to the workers, and they hopefully accept her. A nuc or nucleus of bees has three to five frames of bees with brood, honey, and some pollen, along with a current year’s mated queen. I think I’ll invest in a nucleus next year, but I’ll talk to my mentor first. A nuc is, of course, more expensive.

In the beginning, I fed my package of bees regularly to help them make honey when there weren’t many flowers, and I also fed them when our temperatures rose to over 100°F for two weeks about four weeks ago. I stopped feeding them a week ago when temperatures moderated. It is hard to know when we’re in the middle of a honey dearth in my part of Oklahoma. The heat sure makes things hard, but goldenrod is starting to bloom so it, with the asters and simple mums, should keep the bees happy. They are all still feeding on the summer flowers. Hopefully, I’ve done enough to prepare them. I’ll know more in a week or two.

After talking to Pat, I went down with the super and empty frames to install them. I thought I might look again at the top hive body, but the bees were still angry from the day before and weren’t having any of it. I knew that when one immediately stung my glove. No, it didn’t hurt because she couldn’t sting through my glove. So, I just pulled one honey frame from the outside and then decided I could look at things more closely next week.

It was a bit breezy which also puts them in an ill temper, and my colony isn’t the friendliest one I’ve ever seen anyway. They are pretty mighty though so I don’t take it personally. I am, after all, breaking into their home. So, I pulled one honey frame and looked at it and then decided to just install the super and be on my way. No reason to upset them further that day.

I think having gardened for years and years it’s easier for me to get into the zone of calm you need to keep from being frightened of your bees even when they’re upset. I’m respectful of them, and I appreciate the job they do helping to pollinate my garden. I also admire how they care for each other. I’ll leave you with one more bee pic, and it’s my favorite of the day. Check out the small honey bee returning to the hive. Most of the foragers were out gathering nectar and pollen because I always check my bees in the middle of the afternoon. Fewer bees. Fewer problems.

My favorite photo of the day is of a worker bee flying into the hive.
My favorite photo of the day is of a worker bee flying into the hive.

So, that’s this week’s honey bee fun. I find the whole process rather miraculous. Please comment with any questions you have, and I’ll try to answer them. If I don’t know the answer, I bet I know someone who does.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Peggy Z says:

    Fascinating! My In-Laws had alfalfa and bees. I would love to start a hive but now there is corn and spraying. This article was wonderful.

  2. Laura says:

    I’m hoping to add bees to my farm in 2020, so this post was extremely interesting! I hope you post more about your bees!

  3. So interesting. I enjoy you sharing your journey. I have never thought about the upkeep.

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Wow, bees too. I am impressed. I’ve admired your beautiful garden rooms in previous posts, and already wondered if you ever have time to actually sit on the furniture. :). I ‘ve enjoyed your posts on travels as well, especially the English gardens. My wife and I did an Elderhostel tour of homes and gardens in southern England some years ago, our most enjoyable trip ever.

    As usual, I do have a question. I planted a “Bolero” hummingbird mint this spring that seemed to thrive, and bloomed beautifully ’til a couple weeks ago when it suddenly, within very few days, just dried up. I found some tunneling (mole and/or voles) around the plant and assumed they were destroying it. (Repellant doesn’t seem to be working). I dug up the plant hoping to protect it in a pot, and am surprised that the root system looks healthy. Now several days later the potted plant looks dead. Very disappointed, I really loved the plant and hoped to expand it in my front garden. I seem to recall that you do have Bolero. Any ideas??

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Richard, Agastache ‘Bolero,’ commonly called hummingbird mint, is a bit tricky to grow in our soil. I also grow ‘Bolero’ in a very sandy place in one of my beds. I’m not sure why yours looked dried up and dead, but it could be due to clay soil and too much water. That can also make a plant look dried up even though it actually is drowning. You might ask Steve Owens at Bustani if that’s where you bought your plant. I’ve never had any luck with agastaches until I bought ‘Bolero,’ but I also don’t have the drip irrigation right next to it. I drowned the others.

      1. Richard Smith says:

        Thanks Dee. Overwatering could be my problem, though “Bolero is (was) in a new bed at front of house, which I’ve been watering by hand, and most plants (red yucca, a few salvias, geraniums, moss rose etc) have somewhat similar needs (I think) and are doing fine. (hummingbirds love it). One salvia (“Black & Blue”) specified need for “excellent” drainage so I planted it in a pot submerged enuf to raise the base of the plant a few inches. It is beautiful, but wilts significantly in hot sun and I’ve watered it more than most. I’ve come to believe that descriptions of plants that use terms like “full sun” and “drought tolerant” really aren’t thinking of our Oklahoma conditions. Most of my “sun” coleus are much better with some shade. In any case, if Bolero doesn’t survive, I’ll try again next year. I enjoy the trip to Bustani in spring, and always find more plants I “need”.

  5. Carol says:

    Cool. When will you have enough honey to harvest some (or extract some) for yourself?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Carol, I should have enough honey next summer at this time. The bees need another year to build up their stores because I only started out with a package.

  6. Good for you, Dee! I learned so much from your post. It’s interesting how we decide which pursuits to follow–this likely will keep you busy and learning for years to come. The bees are lucky to have you for their keeper. Cheers!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      It is interesting what we choose to enjoy in our lives. What’s something new you’re doing this year Beth?

  7. kacky says:

    Very interesting!! I didn’t know half that information!! How exciting to be a part of that. Great photos as well and agreed- great capture of the worker bee returning to the hive!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you stopped by and commented. I do love my bees.

I love your comments. Thanks for letting me know what you think.