Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bee Keeping ~ is not for the faint of heart!

Bee keeping is both humbling and exalting, their are thrills to be had in swarms, and adrenaline running through your body as you are capturing a swarm, the energy of thousands of bees all around you.  During these moments, I lose sense of time, as I'm totally focused on working with my bees.  I am in awe of them, the more I learn about them, how they are so in harmony with one another, the hive, the scouts, the workers and queen.  They dance and communicate, they work tirelessly for the good of the hive.  They protect with their life, and feed and tend their young with faithfulness. 

They are vulnerable in the Northwest however, and need a nurturing hand to watch over them, a good beekeeper to guard them, helping them to stay warm and well fed, and adding additions at the right moment.  They will reward us with honey, wax, pollen, propolis, and pollination.  Possibly by keeping them and watching them, we can be lucky enough to learn some of their noble ways. 

The cold days of late winter and early spring, I regularly peeked in and added sugar syrup if they needed it. I fussed over them all Spring, and now that it's getting warmer it makes working alongside my busy little  garden partners all that much sweeter.  I try to organize when I work with the bees at times when I'm not rushed.  I like to be relaxed, as I check hives with my suit on, I lift out frames, holding them into the light, looking for tiny eggs that look like a grain of rice.  If I see those nice and uniform, I know a queen is alive and laying eggs.  Are they uniform, how are the workers capping them, are they bullet like drone cells or are they nice worker cells?  Do you clean the frames as you work them, I do with my scraper.  Look for queen cells, peanut like, they hide them, so look carefully, I usually cut them out, and give the bees more room.

Honeybees in the Northwest need to be fed a lot in June, it's hard to believe because June seems like it should be summer.  If you don't feed them, they could starve to death within a very short time.  If you ever see dead bees on the front of the hive in June, check to be sure there is still sugar syrup left on.  The reason I know about this so well is that several years ago both my hives starved to death almost totally in June.  I caught it in time to salvage some, but not until almost all the bees had died in mass over a 2 day period.  I had no idea what was happening, due to a lack of knowledge.

They can also swarm in June, this year mine swarmed on June 2nd.  I had never experienced a swarm happening before the beginning of July, so was unprepared, and wasn't checking the hive thoroughly every week.  I got a call at work from my husband who watched the huge swarm come out of the hive and swarm away, he valiantly tried to capture it, but it was 50 ft up in a douglas fir tree.  We both felt sad, as a swarm takes away half the workers or more along with the old queen.  You are left with a huge loss of workers for gathering honey, and a new queen that won't hatch out any babies for several weeks.  So you lose workers and valuable time getting a new queen established.

I had a very strong hive this spring, and had been feeding them since late February.  Next year I will know to check early, and put supers on by early to mid May just to be sure they have plenty of room to grow and make comb.  The new young bees like to make comb and the queen was laying perhaps hundreds of eggs per day, exponentially this translates into an army of bees that needs way more room faster and earlier than I, in my inexperience (only 5 years) got to learn another valuable lesson the hard way.  Which happens more often than I like to admit.

Serendipitously, on June 7th my swarm of bees, or possibly someone else's came back.  I thought my bees were swarming again, and knew I didn't have enough left to create the black cloud of bees circling the front of the hives.  As I came near the roar of bees was everywhere, they were on the ground, on the bushes, on
the hives, landing on me, several swarms were forming.  Thankfully I was home and not at work, and had the time to gather 2 more hives to put together, very hard to do when you don't have that many frames with wax in them (I'll address having the proper equipment ready in another post)

I was running back and forth to the barn in my suit with bees all over me, sweating and panting, and gathering everything I need, then realizing I needed my nuc hive, which is the smaller one on the left.  I managed to patch together enough hives, gather the swarms in a box, then dumped the box into the hive, set the box in front of the hive to let the rest go in. This all took a couple hours of running around and then gathering them all before the evening cooled down.  I was strung hard in the right hand, and it was swollen for 2 days.  I've made sugar syrup twice already, and they're all doing ok.  On the next nice sunny day, I'll be checking them thoroughly, and possibly combining a couple.  All three of these hives are almost full of bees, and the small nuc on the left is half full.  I feel so blessed for a second chance at a good honey harvest for this year, and will be diligent in checking them regularly.


Nicole said...

This is so excellent. Our bees just swarmed, and your account resinates more with me than anyone else I've spoken to. Thank you for posting! Can I share this (and give you credit) on my own blog?

Jewel said...

Hi Nicole, thank you for reading, yes you can share this posting on your blog. There is a huge learning curve to bee keeping, but there are also many rewards, good luck, and nice to meet you.