Brook and I talked to an old bee keeper in early spring after we lost all our hives. He offered some great advice but the one thing he said that made the biggest impression was “ You can’t bee keep when it fits your schedule. Bees are needy and you need to tend to them even when it is inconvenient.”
Last summer Brook split one bee hive into four hives. He was diligent and checked the hives every week and when he saw a new queen cell he moved that frame plus a few more into a new box. We were so excited for our growing colonies of bees. We watched and waited for those bees to start appearing on warm winter days. But there were no signs of life. The reason we lost our hives? Well it was a combination of things, but mostly lack of education, time, greed, and yes I will say it, stupidity and carelessness. We were hasty and took for granted what we had been given.
We recently purchased two new nucs and are currently harvesting the honey from last year’s hives. So in a sense it is bittersweet . We lost our hives but we still gained the honey stores the bees did not consume over winter.
Here are the lessons we took from our loss so you can reap the honey from your harvest and not make similar mistakes.
Lesson 1: Treat for varoah mites. They will kill your hive. Period! This can be done in late summer and/or early fall. Whatever way you choose to treat them, just do it. This is a link to The Fat Bee Man. This is just one of his videos showing how he treats for the mites. Brook has learned a lot of valuable information from his videos.
Lesson 2: When you have two small colonies combine them into one for the winter so they can generate more warmth. We should have done this but we were hoping for the best.
Lesson 3: Don’t check your bees in winter unless the temperature is above 50 degrees.
Lesson 4: If you do the above, make sure you put the bricks back on the top of the hive cover so that the wind does not blow it off. Yes, for real…we lost a hive because of carelessness. It was our strongest and oldest hive too.
Lesson 5: Pen up your chickens and check the foundation of your hives. Over winter from frost heave and chickens scratching around the base of the blocks that support the hives, one completely blew over on a windy night in early spring. Again a hard learned lesson.
Lesson 6: Mouse guards must be intact. The first inkling of cool weather mice are looking for a winter home and hives are full of food and warmth. They will eat the stores of honey and if your bees are huddled up to keep warm they will eat the bees. Brook found this out the hard way. He found a hive with a mouse nest full of babies with honey and bees eaten. If you are wondering how mice eat bees they eat the heads off the bees. You will find this problem more in wooded surroundings where the white footed deer mouse population is abundant.
This is our fourth year of bee keeping and we are still learning. Through conversation with other bee keepers we find that even the most experienced loose hives. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason sometimes. Even if you do everything right there could be room for loss.
Don’t hesitate to start a new journey. Even though we have lost hives, we have not lost the equipment. Plus the amount of honey we were able to harvest surpasses the initial and ongoing investments into new colonies.
Brook surprised me with my own bee keeping gear a few weeks ago because he knows my desire is to be able to help him. I look forward to the day when the kids can take care of themselves and I can tend hives on a regular basis. For right now I will learn along side my love watching what he does to care for our honey makers and pollinators when the children nap. We are in the beginning stages of making this a family hobby. The kids are always willing to do the chore of harvesting honey and hopefully one day they will take an interest in “bee babysitting.”
We are slowly harvesting the honey which is a process of uncapping the beeswax that are on the honey cells. Then spinning the frames in the extractor. The honey collects at the bottom of the extractor. The lever is opened and the honey flows out into a large jar. Later we filter it using a large honey strainer fit in a food grade bucket. Most of our supplies were purchased second hand from another apiarist friend or purchased through Miller Bee Supply. If you want to know more about how to extract honey The Elliot Homestead gives a great explanation on the process.
The best lesson from our mistakes is don’t be greedy. You reap what you sow. Bees are not greedy they give back more than what they need. You take care of them and they will take care of you.