There is a saying in beekeeping circles to “be a bee keeper, not a bee haver.” It expresses the notion that we should intervene with our bees when necessary to keep them alive, as a farmer typically does with any other livestock. The measurement of success for “keeping” your bees is for them to live through the winter and into spring. It is easy to have bees and then watch them die over the winter due to lack of food or varroa infestation; it is much harder to keep them healthy until the spring nectar flow begins. Be a bee keeper, not a bee haver.
I seem to be skirting the line between having and keeping bees lately.
Dead bees between the frames of Mars. ©Erik Brown
It is the time of year when beekeepers start thinking about winter, and whether the hives are strong enough to make it into spring. One key factor is the number of pesky mites in the hive, something I have been tracking since the end of July. This post chronicles my ongoing efforts to keep the little beasties under control.
We also dropped our youngest daughter at University in Massachusetts recently. I was on the lookout for bees, of course. ©Erik Brown
We have escaped our life in Virginia by travelling to Scotland for a bit. Among our many good times was a visit to Stirling Castle a few days ago. It turns out King James V of Scotland added The Royal Palace to the castle in the 1500’s. The statues on the outside were apparently named after my beehives.
On the corner of the Palace is a statue of King James V, after which statues of Ganymede, Venus, and Saturn appear. ©Erik Brown
This has been a busy month. Work, bike riding, yard tending, getting ready for a high school graduation, and of course bees. That last one has made for a rather interesting month. I have three updates that I will split into three posts so this doesn’t get too long. A Star Wars theme is never bad, so we’ll do this via the original episodes.
Ten nucs ready for pickup. The back 7 are from a friend; the front three are mine
We have had a few weeks of spring lately, with the air full of pollen and the bees going crazy. Rain and cool weather returned this weekend, so I am not able to work outside. I am instead sitting inside and writing this early spring update. A year will come when I feel that my springtime work with bees goes well and the hives are buzzing along, so to speak. This is not that year.
The expanded apiary on April 14. ©Erik Brown
The air smells slightly of pollen and the bees are going crazy, so you know that spring has arrived. Our cool nights are probably not totally over, and daytime temperatures occasionally call for a jacket. The hives are expanding quickly so it is time for a spring update.
My little apiary on March 25, 2017. ©Erik Brown
My hives catching the morning sun on Jan 8, 2017. My shadow is on the bottom left.
Given my prior post on goals for 2017, it seems only fair to revisit my goals from 2016, part of 1001 Arabian Mites. In the post I listed five areas to focus on in 2016. Now that we are firmly in 2017 I thought a brief report card is in order. Continue reading
Making sugar cakes on December 3. © Erik Brown
My friend Gordon used to say that it takes three years to become a good teacher. We were teaching secondary school in Botswana, Africa at the time, preparing students for their O-level and A-level exams. Gordon said that you spend the first year figuring out the material, the second year figuring out how to teach, and the third year really teaching. Of course, I only taught for two years, so it never quite happened for me.
This may apply to how beekeepers overwinter bees as well. I read and learned much and stumbled through my first winter. As we enter my second winter I have stronger opinions about what I should have or could have done better. Next year I will be perfect. Continue reading
In Virginia, we have six to eight weeks of summer dearth followed by an unreliable fall, so the best nectar the bees see is in spring and early summer. Last year, in my first year of beekeeping, another beekeeper told me to feed my hives in August and September. Otherwise they will eat much of their stores and not have enough for winter. Well, it turns out he was correct. Continue reading
The yard on August 21, 2016. (c) Erik Brown
As my second beekeeping summer comes to a close, it is the time of year when beekeepers count the many pounds of honey collected from their hives, and answer the age-old question of how to handle the dreaded varroa mite.
This year I gathered my first honey, a grand total of nearly 6 cups worth. As another local beekeeper put it, the price per pound of that honey is pretty steep. Beekeeping equipment is not cheap, bees are not cheap, and our time is somewhat precious. All for a few jars of honey. Perhaps it is more about the love of bees and the joy of a hobby, at least for me. Continue reading