I’m in my third year beekeeping. This hobby has such a learning curve. Kinda like gardening when I first started except most plants don’t try to sting you. Stinging nettles and poison ivy don’t count.
My first year
I haven’t written a beekeeping post since my first season of beekeeping. In the first year, I learned:
- To install a package.
- To identify the queen and mark her.
- To manage a small colony of bees that grew to be a large colony.
- The parts of the hive (their home) versus the colony (them as a group), the super (where the beekeeper’s honey resides), frames, deeps (big boxes with eight or ten frames), bottom boards, and inner and outer covers.
- That if you accidentally squish a bee it makes the rest of them very angry. The dying bee sends out an alarm pheromone that smells like bananas.
- Don’t eat bananas before hive inspections. Very important.
The first year was kinda hard.
I thought the first year was kinda hard, but only because my first colony was a feisty bunch. They still are, but they have mellowed some. They love to create a lot of sticky bee propolis which is one of the things I like least about them. In fact, they spend so much time buttoning up their hive they don’t put much honey in the super.
Beekeepers only take the honey in the top box called the super. The rest of the honey in the deeps is for the bees to make it through winter.
In year two, I learned about making a walkway split–where you split your colony in two to stop swarming and create a new colony–and I learned it’s more difficult to inspect a full-sized colony than a small one. The bees have more to protect like their honey and their brood, and they can get very upset. I also got to know my three colonies, and trust me, every colony has a different personality.
I also learned how to reverse the bottom boxes with the top ones in spring. Queens tend to go up, and that causes problems. They think they’ve run out of room. Silly queens.
Plus, I learned how to treat for varroa mites, and to watch out for hive beetles and wax moths. As with chickens, everything likes to eat honey or honey bees. We also have to watch out for skunks who like to make honey bees their night time snacks.
Third Year Beekeeping
This year, I have three colonies and a nuc that I’m thinking about moving into a bigger box a/k/a hive body. Colonies #1 through #3 run right to left. Colony #2 is a package I installed last year, and Colony #3 is a split from that colony. The nuc is also a split. Colony #2 is busy. They also swarmed earlier in the spring. I should have been more careful and not let them and Colony #1 swarm. I learned this in my third year of beekeeping.
It’s a steep learning curve in year three.
I considered requeening Colony #1, but it was hard to find queens during the pandemic, and by the time I located a source, half the colony swarmed, and they made their own new queen. Unfortunately, she’s from the first queen’s lineage, and she isn’t my favorite. Still, her children are less feisty than before. They still don’t like to make honey except for themselves.
The first year, no honey. The second year, five small, beautiful jars. I will harvest honey again this year. Colony #3, because it didn’t swarm twice, produced almost an entire super of honey. Today, I went to inspect the colonies, and I took one of #3’s partially finished honey frames and put it in Colony #2’s honey super to give them a little more encouragement. We are pretty much at the end of the summer flow, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I took one of #2’s more unfinished medium frames and put it in the #3’s super because they are still bringing in plenty of nectar.
I bought a motorized 6/3 frame honey extractor, and it’s on its way. I also bought an uncapping, electric hot knife with digital control, a stainless steel uncapping scratcher, some 5-Gallon durable, 90 mil food-grade buckets with lids, and somewhere, I’ll buy nozzles for the buckets. These items are very expensive. In fact, beekeeping, in my opinion, is a very expensive hobby until you break that bell curve of the honey harvest to beekeeping supplies.
In my inspections, I got stung twice today. They were only half stings on my leather gloves so they only hurt a little bit. Anyone who keeps bees does get stung, and the feistiest colony this year is #3. Guess why? Yes, it’s because they have honey to protect. They don’t like you to rob their honey. Who could blame them?
In spite of the stings and the heat, I still enjoy doing this crazy hobby. I love how the bees pollinate my vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers so well. I always heard native pollinators get run out by honey bees, but I’m not seeing that, at least, not with wasps and hoverflies and carpenter bees. Everyone is holding their own, but the honey bees, while not as efficient as some buzz pollinators, go to a particular plant and work together. It’s fun to watch them. It’s also fun to watch the hives and the business that is always going on.
Honey bees, like so many of God’s creatures, are miraculous. Maybe that’s why I continue to work with them. Now, to get them ready for the fall flow and then winter. Beekeeping is certainly more interesting and difficult than I first thought.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on beekeeping and other all-consuming hobbies. You know you’ve got them too.
One more thing, Carol Michel and I have a new podcast episode this week called We tempt you to grow! Check it out!