We started our beekeeping journey over 3 years ago and it has been quite difficult. The first year, we went to seminars, read every book and blog, researched types of bees, treatments, and treatment free beekeeping. There is a lot of information to process, so my advice is to take it slow. Talk to local beekeepers and research the different types of hives (yes, there are many types).
Here is a quick look into our journey:
We went to an awesome workshop local to us that had many types of hives to look at and they had beekeepers tell us the pros and cons to each. We fell in love with the top bar hives and decided that is the one for us. We were not planning on getting bees for another year, but were so excited after that- we purchased our first hive 2 weeks later. We purchased all of the ‘bee gear’ and went to work on getting everything ready- as temps were warming up and we knew we would have to get bees soon.
After lots of research on types of bees, we chose to get bees that have been in our area instead of getting bees from down south. It gets really cold on the homestead and the winter winds on top of a mountain are no joke. We wanted hardy bees. We wanted tough bees that would survive the cold weather. That was our hope anyway.
We purchased our bees from a beekeeper in a nearby town that has raised bees for a decade or so. We were so excited that our bees would hopefully be super strong and would survive our harsh winters.
Our first months with the bees were great! They were drawing comb, making honey, lots of brood (baby bees) and I spotted the queen easily every time I opened the hive. A little bit about how scary it is for first time beekeepers to open a bee hive… SCARY! After doing it a few times it wasn’t as bad as I expected and I did not get stung- not once that year in fact! We used a smoker- but I had more success with calming the bees by using sugar water in a spray bottle.
I figured we would have a great survival rate that winter. But then, we had a drought that summer. A severe drought. It was so bad that year that our pond dried up, the trees turned brown and most plants just died. I worried about my bees as they pretty much stopped producing honey. They only had a fraction of honey that I had expected for them to have… and barely enough for them to be able to survive the winter with. But, I had thought that as long as they had something, they might make it. I even put an insulation board in the roof portion of the hive to keep them warm at the end of November.
NOPE. Mid December comes around, after an extreme cold snap, all of the bees are dead.
It was so upsetting and such a loss that we decided to take a year off after that. Researched more and figure out what we could have done better in the mean time. I realized that I did not feed them enough, I did not check them enough (from what I have read, you need to open them up at least once a week- with kids, a full farm, gardening and homeschooling- it seemed like too much at the time). We didn’t provide them with enough fresh, cool water. I have a big water source for them now. I am also planting a lot of wild flowers this spring which will help them gather pollen. I found with all of the farms around us, its hard for them to forage when its all corn and soy surrounding our little homestead. We had a big problem with robbing. That’s when other bees from other hives or wasps invade the hive and steal the honey. [Insert angry face]
Here is what we are doing differently this year:
We decided to move the hive closer to the barn where it would be sheltered from the winter winds and be in a full sun location with easier access to a constant flowing stream and many meadows. We purchased a second hive, but this time we went with a langstroth hive. We ordered our bees which should be here the end of April (unless it keeps snowing!) and are anxiously awaiting our second attempt.
Stay tuned for updates on our adventures in beekeeping.
Interested in beekeeping? Need some bee gear? Check out Hudson Valley Bee Supply