Summary of My First Beekeeping Season

The season went by quickly, but I have learned so much. The one thing that I found most interesting was how in tune the bees were with my emotions. They really had a good sense of how I was feeling and they reacted accordingly. Once I figured that out, I worked very hard at keeping myself calm during the inspections. This took a lot of work on my part after developing a fear of being stung. The new bee suit helped me feel so much more comfortable and allowed me to relax more. It was wonderful once I was more in tune with the bees.

I am glad that I decided to stick with it. At one point I was ready to give my hives away, but I see now how bad of a decision that would have been. I am sure that the bees will continue to teach me so many things. I am also going to continue reading and studying as much as I can about honey bees to help me in this journey.

At the end of January, I will be taking a weekend intensive top bar beekeeping class. Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees will be teaching the class. I also recently reread her book The Thinking Beekeeper. In rereading the book there were things in there that I know I had seen the first time I read the book, but they jumped out at me more this time. One of the management techniques she discusses is to start the colony in the middle of the hive, but then always make sure the bees are building comb in the same direction (either to the left or to the right).

With the hive at my house, I did follow that technique. The colony never got very big so they only built out to the right side of the hive. The hive at the host house, however, I did not follow that technique. Once they had built out in one direction I removed the other divider board to allow them to build in the other direction. According to the book, allowing them to build out in one direction make winter honey feeding easier for the bees. I am not sure how things will go in my hives, the last time I checked both colonies were balled up in about the same place in their hives.

I am very excited for the upcoming weekend intensive class with Christy. I am hoping to meet other top bar beekeepers and to learn even more about top bar management. I am also very excited to learn even more about top bar beekeeping. It will be so nice to be around like minded people that are not telling me that I am “just killing my bees”.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Winter Conference. I went to a talk about raspberries and their care. The woman who was speaking own a certified organic farm. They grow apples, blueberries, raspberries, and other foods and flowers. They use soil health and remineralization techniques to care for the soil and the plants. These are the same techniques that I am using in my garden.

After the talk was over, I approached the speaker to talk about bees. I started by asking her if she had bees at the farm. When she said that she didn’t, I asked her if she would be interested in hosting a couple of hives. I was so excited when she agreed! I will be putting two hives out at the farm early this spring.

I will be ordering two more hives from www.beethinking.com soon. I need time to build them, oil them, and air them out. I am planning to set up the hives early in April and getting bees by mid April. The farm needs the bees there before the apple trees bloom. Of course the hies will be top bar hives.

The Langstroth hive in my yard was managed by Best Bees of Boston since summer of 2014. Now that I have experience with keeping bees, I am taking over the management of the hive. I will be ordering a new Langstroth hive as well. The other major change that I am making, is changing the frames to foundationless. I am going to start the process slowly, but I am hoping to have everything switched over by the end of the season. If that is not possible, then I will continue to make the changes into the following season.

Natural beekeeping is very important to me and I want to focus on the health of the bees. All of the wonderful things that I get out of the hives are not as important to me as creating a healthy environment for my bees. I hope to continue to learn about the use of essential oils to help the bees fend off mites and diseases. Much of what I learn will be from my experiences, but reading and talking to other beekeepers will help me too.

Last year was filled with excitement, anxiety, and questions. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to become a beekeeper and to work with these amazing creatures. The year to come brings new questions, new anxieties, and new excitement. I plan to continue to share my journey here, with you. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask. I am happy to talk about my experiences and what I have learned.

Happy New Year!

Candy

The weather has continued to stay unusually warm and the bees are eating more honey due to their increased activity. I had put sugar syrup feeders in the hives. When I checked on the bees a few days after I had installed the feeders, they had not been eating the sugar syrup. The bees in the hive at my house have less honey stored than the host hive does. After going through the hives, I don’t think that either of the hives has enough honey to get through the winter.

I spent some time reading and talking to other bee keepers about winter feeding, especially for top bar hives. I decided to make candy for them. The next step was to find a good recipe for the candy. There are a lot of really gross recipes for bee candy on the internet! I found one for hard candy on www.honeybeesuite.com that I modified.
I decided to make the hard candy over the fondant because the weather has been fluctuating so much. From what I read, fondant can occasionally melt. In the top bar hive there is no candy board and I didn’t want the candy to liquefy at all and end up all over the bottom of the hive.
The candy I made was 4 cups of sugar, 12.8 ounces of water, 1 tsp and a little extra of lemon juice, and I added 5 drops of lemongrass and spearmint essential oils. I followed the instructions on www.honeybeesuite.com for how to make the candy. For forming the candy, I used bread pans instead of paper plates. I needed the candy to be rectangular instead of circular. I just lined the pans with parchment paper since I don’t use canola oil for anything. The bread pans were the perfect size and shape for my hives.
Outside the temperature was about 50 degrees and it was mostly cloudy. My initial plan was just to put the blocks of candy into the hives. I started with the hive in my yard. I opened it up and took out the syrup feeders. When I took the syrup feeders out, I got quite an awful surprise.
There were several dead bees on the bottom and lots of mites! I don’t understand why they were there. It seemed like a strange place for the mites to be. The bees never even lived in that part of the hive. There were so many mites in there.
I decided to take a peak inside the nest to see if the colony was still there. I only partially took out one bar and there was a small cluster of bees and they made a good amount of noise to let me know to close the hive! I put the bar back into the hive and closed up the hive as tightly as I could.
Seeing all of those mites in the hive at my house was very concerning. Now I needed to put the candy into the host hive and look for mites there too. The host hive has been a strong colony all along. They have more honey stores and they used a lot more propolis on the hive than the hive in my yard. They even made the entrance reducer smaller by filling about 2/3 of it with propolis.
When I got to the host hive, I checked the entrance first. The bees were active today. I watched them flying out of the hive and returning. Then I checked though the window to see if they were taking any of the syrup. The bees have not been taking the syrup, which is what I had suspected. They have honey and they would much rather eat that.
I opened the feeder area to remove the syrup feeders. Once open, I spent some time looking in the feeder cavity. I did not find any mites like I had in the other hive. There were just a couple of dead bees and lots of propolis. This colony has done really well coating most of their hive with propolis. It may be that they are so close to conservation land that they are able to collect so much of it.
Once I was done viewing the feeder cavity, I put the candy block in the hive on top of the folded paper. Then I closed up the feeder cavity. I decided not to open the area where the colony is, but I knocked on the bars where I think the bees are. The bees kindly responded to my knocking with a lovely sound of buzzing!
Mites!
Mites!
Candy Block
Candy Block
Propolis
Propolis
More Candy
More Candy