This photo appeared on my computer screen recently when I opened my Facebook page: Memory from 4 years ago today. What a day that was!
It was my first visit to my beehive in my life as a beekeeper. Looking back, it may have not been a great idea to have worn those flowered pants, and you will note that my daughter Hannah isn’t in the photo, because she was back in the house nursing a bee sting on her foot.
That day, I had to get five frames full of bees (called a “nuc”) from a cardboard box into my beehive. Included in the five frames were a queen bee and all the stages of development from egg to bee. So basically, a nuc is a fully established colony of bees, only smaller. Sharing my excitement, Hannah had invited a friend from school and her mother to come over and watch the big event. They passed on the offer, which was lucky for me, and probably for them, as it turned out.
In preparation for the move, I first set up a camera on its tripod, then set up all of my new beekeeping equipment: smoker, hive tools, lighter, gloves—everything that my Beekeeping For Dummies book told me I needed. Hannah and I also had on our bee jackets that I had purchased.
The next half hour was a whirlwind. I was screaming at Hannah, running back and forth to the house to retrieve beekeeper items that I had forgotten, and scrambling around to nurse my daughter’s bee sting. The bee jackets were great, but I had failed to consider her flip-flop footwear.
At the end of the craziness, the bees somehow ended up in that hive box in the background and this photo was snapped. In keeping with the theme of the day, though, the video of the chaos ended up being deleted forever.
Four years ago today, a new beekeeper was born.
Here I am, and I am still “at it.” Although I am mostly calmer when I go into my hive, outside of the hive I have a neurotic tendency to second-guess my bee management decisions. Beekeeping seems to be more of an art rather than a science. I have met so many experienced beekeepers, who I view as mentors, yet each one has different ideas on the right way to keep bees. Regardless, I am slowly creating my own strategies, and I handle my bees and my bees’ needs more confidently as the seasons pass.
Back in that first year, we’d joked in our family that I’d have to charge something to the tune of $1,500 for my first jar of honey, and my friend Jen even gave me a honey jar from Tiffany’s to use. It was just last year that I had my first real harvest, and it was the most joyful time. I had been ready to throw in the towel after consistently losing bees every winter, but this year, even after replacing another two hives’ worth of bees ($Ouch), I felt peace.
After this past winter’s bee deaths, I was able to move quickly and replace them with nucs from a local beekeeper, and they developed so quickly that I was ready to capture the honey production in tune with the nectar flow. So here my two hives stand as we speak: 2 hive bodies, a queen excluder, and 2-3 honey supers on top. My two established colonies are in good shape, and there’s also one empty hive body in my woods that I hope to fill with a swarm.
There are some greedy thoughts dancing in the back of my head about the honey that I can collect if it is a good season. But even if it’s not to bee (pun intended!), I feel good just knowing and seeing the bees buzzing around in my back yard. I visit the hives every day and watch the girls bring back pollen to the larva. I also see that the numbers of bees are increasing dramatically.
Right now, I am sitting back, pondering what’s next. I could perform a hive inspection on my own, or I could have a hive inspection with a department of agriculture inspector whom I’ve contacted to get another view on my continuing bee loss situation. Or maybe I’ll do something entirely different with the bees. Whatever the next steps are, I hope to keep you abreast of my bee experiences as I learn my way, and provide you with a look into the hives from behind the beekeeper’s veil.
Janice Fisher is a physical therapist and beekeeper from Annapolis, Maryland.
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