This year we ordered three more hives to add to our two from our first year (which started out as one, until they swarmed on the 4th of July). Zak made all of our boxes and bits this year with our friend Carl.
So it seems I’ve already gotten one notch in my beekeepers belt. If I was a cub scout I guess you could say I’ve earned my ‘beekeeping badge’, or at least that’s how I feel after this first year of trials, errors, tribulations, and an encouraging amount of ‘Ah ha!’ moments. All and all I feel that I faired quite well through the first year. I Macgyvered when it was needed, I threw caution to the wind more then once, listened almost solely to my gut instincts, but above all else I had faith in my countless little ladies and their unbelievable ability to out work almost anything or one I’ve ever seen.
They are the John Henry of the bug world, foraging themselves to death in the summer just to make sure that there will be enough stores for their unborn sisters (whom they will never meet) to make it through the winter. If I could even begin to count how much time I spent over the past year simply sitting next to my hive and watching the constant stream of bees, you would most likely think I have a lot of free time (which I don’t) or that I don’t have much of a social life (which I could actually be guilty of now that I think of it). The truth is that when doing anything in the garden, I would eventually find myself inevitably drawn to the hives and entranced by their nameless beauty.
Bees are the mating dance of the flowers, separate from them yet inseparable from their mutual survival, a dance that has evolved for thousands of years to be the perfect example of symbiosis we witness today. Half of gardening is observation, (that’s a Bill Mollison quote) and in my experience with bees in the past year I have found it to be especially true. Most of my time observing them was to learn their patterns, so when something went awry I would notice. Most of the knowledge that I acquired in this first year was gained through this observation, by seeing something in one of my hives and saying to myself “that’s strange” and then trying to figure out exactly what it is that I was witnessing. This still happens quite often.
A good example is that out of my two hives from year one, I noticed on a warm day Hive 2 was really active while Hive 1 wasn’t doing anything. I knew there were bees inside because I could here them buzzing when I put my ear to the box, so I followed my gut instinct and opened up the hive and took all the boxes off down to the bottom board and what do you know, there were so many dead bees on the bottom board from over the course of the winter that the remaining bees couldn’t get out to forage. If I had been less observant of these obvious discrepancies in the behavior of these hives then who knows how it might have turned out given enough time.
This has been the trend over the past year. There have been many more adventurous lessons as well. I trapped my first swarm, extracted my first honey flow (which was delicious), experimented with treating for Varroa mites with essential oils, made it through the winter with no loses, built all my new bee boxes from scratch, and much more. Soon I have the feeling I will be going head to head with the small hive beetle and learning all of it’s weaknesses. I know I will never completely stop scratching my head, but can already see it becoming a less and less frequent occurrence. Here’s to a good year past and hopefully many more ahead. Cheers!