By Helen Dedman
I started beekeeping about 3 years ago with one hive. I decided to try beekeeping because I kept reading about the decline of bees due to pesticides or who knows what and I thought, “I’ll try beekeeping, it will help the garden and it can’t be too hard.” I went to a few beginner beekeeping classes, took copious notes, and bought my brand new equipment complete with gloves, hat with veil AND ordered my queen and her small court. In a month or so my queen arrived at the Dadant Bee Supply Store in Frankfort, Kentucky. (Wonderful company that is staffed by well trained beekeepers who are eager to help and answer questions.) Okay so I pick up my girls, name the queen Adelina, and drive home with bees buzzing around in the back of my car. No, I’m not worried (much!)
My bee mentor (you need a bee mentor) comes to show me how to get the queen and her court into the hive. That works, then I am to feed them sugar water and hope for the best. First year goes well, Adelina lays lots of eggs, and bees make lots of honey which you shouldn’t harvest the first year because the hive will need it to get through the winter. I worry a bit during the winter, give them winter food like I am told and they make it! Feeling pretty sassy I decide to get another queen to start the second hive (named her Beatrice.) Again things go along pretty well, I spring feed them as instructed but where I really fail is checking the hive. At least every month a good beekeeper dons his/her bee gear, smokes the hive with dandy little smoker and opens up the hive.
Your mission is to check to see the queen and check to see if she is laying eggs. I have never seen the queen but I know she is laying eggs or someone is. One also checks to see if there is honey, what the cells look like and just general health of the bees. Well, the bees really don’t appreciate your concern for their health, “get out of my hive!” And these bee hives/boxes that you must move are HEAVY! When full of honey they are at least 40-50 pounds. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not that strong. So needless to say, I didn’t check as much as I should. Yep, I lost one hive, Beatrice, to wax moths.
But Adelina is going strong so now I need to extract honey. Well, to make a long story short, bees do not like it when you take their honey. I thought I had a very good system, take frames full of honey to screen in porch, just scrap off honey, strain, etc. Not many frames so why use an extractor. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Bees come after the honey, screen porches have holes and you can’t keep the bees from their honey. Not going well, so I just put those frames right back in the hive and really make the bees upset (photo at right). By now as you can guess, I realize this beekeeping is hard! I am terribly discouraged, I killed bees and didn’t mean to and I got stung a lot! (Always have Benadryl on hand.)
I cried out to my beekeeping friends (local beekeeping clubs are wonderful) and they encouraged me to not quit and they would help, even Chuck volunteered! Mentors came help me check the hives, which somehow survived in spite of me. We bought an extractor and tried again. Success, bottling about 56 jars of honey! But this time we were in an enclosed workshop, used a blower to get the bees off and settled into a day long process.
So things I have learned:
- Beekeeping is hard and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Beekeepers are real nice people and want to help but there are lots of opinions and ways to do things.
- Respect the bees, they work hard making that honey and surviving, don’t take it lightly.
- Bees are amazing creatures and beekeeping is a rewarding hobby, not just for the honey, but for the insight into one part of nature’s organization and its will to survive.
So now I have 2 hives that at this point are doing well. In the next few days we hope to do another extraction so next time you are at the inn, look for it at breakfast; Chef Brian has also worked it into a few entrees or stop by the shop for some of Helen’s Honey. (We can ship it also.)
I’d love to hear your bee stories or any advice you might have for me. I have often heard beekeepers that have been doing this for years call themselves beginners.
Life is learning! Bee Happy.