hoping for honey

IMGP0965Bustling spring just wouldn’t be the same without saying some thanks to our very important pollinator, the honeybee. I’ve been keeping bees as long as we’ve lived here on the farm. In fact, I established my very first hive on the farm before Eric and I officially moved here. Some years were bustling with the bees, some years not so much. Some years the bees swarmed like crazy, some years they didn’t survive through the winter. I can’t tell you the number of time I’ve established new colonies, but last spring was another of those times. This time, though, I found a local beekeeper in the nearby Amish community that had some nucleus colonies for sale. Locally adapted bees seemed a much better option to me than the mail order bees I had typically purchased. (Don’t get me wrong, though, not everyone has access to a beekeeping neighbor with hives for sale… so if you are looking to get started keeping bees and a mail order swarm is your best option, then go for it! We need bees far more than we need to dwell in the notion of imperfection. This world isn’t perfect. We do our best and move on.)

So far, my little local bees seem to be thriving. They made it through our fairly harsh winter and are very busy with the important work that they do. They were so busy, in fact, that I was worried they might swarm. I also thought that the hives might be getting crowded and could use the extra space of a honey super. I don’t keep the bees just for the golden nectar that they produce, I keep them for many more reasons than that. But, but… my family sure wouldn’t mind to harvest just a little honey from the bees this year! IMGP0977Once I got into the hives, I realized that they were not yet over-crowded and I did not see any signs of swarming… no queen cells that I could find which is just fine with me. When I open the hives, I generally do not pull the frames out of the hive body itself. I always feel like a big awkward destructive bear. Instead, I look down into the frames from the top and will then tip the hive body on it’s side so that I can look up into the frames from the bottom. Most of my beekeeping over the years has followed a more instinctual path. I am not a pro beekeeper by any means, I just like having the little critters around.  IMGP0986 I keep my bees in the standard Langstroth hives. I am very interested in trying out top-bar beehives someday, but I just haven’t made that move yet. Last year I did try out a new type of frame, called a foundationless (“foundation” is the thin sheets of beeswax that you place in the hive to give the bees a guide where to build their cells) frames, that allow the bees to fully build all of their beeswax cells themselves and not necessarily be locked into the rectangular shape of the frame. The beekeeper does paint a small bead of beeswax across the top of the frame as a subtle guide, but otherwise you leave the beeswax construction up to the bees. I’ve never seen a wild hive that is rectangular! Plus, the production of fresh wax is very cleansing for the bees… kind of like us humans having a good old sweat. I could certainly see where these frames could prove problematic for the commercial beekeeper, but I’m more concerned about the health and well-being of the bees. IMGP0988 IMGP0992So after a good look in my hives, and putting on some honey supers just in case, I will leave the bees alone for a while. I will watch them from a distance, say hello to the hard-working little foragers when I see them in the gardens or orchard, and do my best to create health-giving farm environment in which they can thrive. I sure do appreciate having them as neighbors!IMGP0993

8 thoughts on “hoping for honey

  1. That’s awesome! We have HUGE bumble bees on our land. I do not want to hurt them, but they are right by our front door. I think they have settled under our front porch.
    I’d love to learn more about bees. Think I know what books I’ll be checking out of the library next time I go.

    • Admittedly, we have huge carpenter bees that are pretty obsessed with eating the rafters on our porches… and I don’t have a lot of patience for that! But I try to be kind and send them the message that we are surrounded by forest, and plenty of other wood options! But the year we had a nest of giant Asian hornets under our front porch and one had to dodge the suckers every time you had to use the front door… well, that was a nightmare!

  2. Love this, “We need bees far more than we need to dwell in the notion of imperfection.” We just hived two colonies up here in Fairbanks, Alaska – doing top bar hives. We do bees because it’s good (and because we love honey 🙂 ). Over wintering bees is notoriously difficult in Fairbanks (the bees survive about 1/3 of the time and are so weak usually it’s a matter of opinion on whether it’s worth it…but we’re giving it a go this year and attempting to over-winter a colony in our chicken coop (separate from the chickens of course!) It’s lovely having them buzz all over our property – in all their imperfection! xo anna

    • Very cool. Inspiring that you keep at it even with the high chances of losing your hives to the cold. Keeping them in the protection of your chicken coop sounds like a mighty fine idea and I wish you the best of luck keeping those precious bees alive! cher

  3. It is frustrating to keep bees, but not being able to harvest any honey. My husband kept bees for about 4 years and we were only able to harvest twice. But like you, honey production wasn’t the only reason we kept them around.

    • Certainly… there were years I was convinced I was going to harvest a bumper crop of honey just to find the supers totally empty. And then, strangely, getting a nice harvest from a hive that didn’t survive the winter.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing all of this. We’ve so far attempted one hive that didn’t make it and we haven’t quite figured out why. I think not knowing what happened has put a standstill on our beekeeping endeavors. Still, I’m learning what I can so that we can try again soon. Not this year, I think, but the year after. We heard about “foundationless,” hives from a friend who is a biodynamic beekeeper and it is so very interesting. Neat to see them in use by someone else!

    • Bees, and beekeeping, can be extremely mysterious that is for sure. I would say, when you are ready, to not be intimidated by the loss of your first hive. Keep at it, friend. The learning never stops!

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