Beekeeping 7 Lessons
We have learned so much from our bees and unfortunately a lot of it "the hard way". We almost gave up after our second year of beekeeping because we were failing terribly. Grateful to have met a beekeeping mentor with a solid record of sustainable beekeeping to guide us through this very steep learning curve. Here are 7 lessons that we've learned along our beekeeping journey.
1. Bees are aggressive towards the colour black. Ask my husband. He always wears black and got stung many times that first year. Maybe bees innately have something against black bears and motorbikers.
2. Smoking the hive is the exception not the rule. Smoke is toxic and causes stress in the colony. Choose a hot sunny day to inspect the hive, when most bees are out foraging and the others warm and placid. Don't rush in but instead politely announce your good intentions by spraying a little 1:1 sugar water mix inside the top cover. Then take a breathe - no hurry - enjoy your privileged time with the bees. Remember you are a guest and entering their most intimate space, inside the hive.
3. Varroa mite monitoring and treatment are necessary and there are Canadian Organic approved options that work well. We have successfully used only Thymovar strips and Formic Acid strips for mite control. Regular mite monitoring especially in the spring and fall have a huge impact on the viability of colonies.
4. Taking on a honeybee colony (or ten) is full-on farming. Honeybees are not just a backyard lawn ornament that can fend for itself in nature. (Although you could totally keep bees in your back yard.) As with any livestock, they need to be housed and fed and kept safe. This means opening the hive, and pulling frames to regularly monitor what is happening inside the hive. Record keeping with notes on hive strength and behaviour and actions taken. Include dates so you can reference back and consider next steps needed for a strong healthy hive. Jot down the weather and what pollen and nectar sources are available or lacking.
5. New-bees need a mentor. There is exact science in beekeeping but it is just as much a balance of art and science. Watching our beekeeping friend work a hive and make decisions, based on his observations but sometimes a gut feeling has proven invaluable - can't get that type of experience from a video or a book. Find a long time and successful beekeeper and offer to volunteer for them.
6. Health prevention, is better than having to treat a struggling hive. We know that a good immune system will fend off infection and disease...works the same in all of nature and for bees. After another winter taking it's toll on our hives, it was suggested that we move our apiary away from the shady creekside and out into the middle of the field. We had originally intended to shelter them from the wind but bees need sunshine more...especially over the winter months. There's no quick and easy way to move an established hive. Generally a hive is moved at least two miles away so that the bees re-orientate once moved back to the new apiary site. Otherwise the bees will return to the original location and not find their way back to the hive eek! We did this hive move in winter, long before their spring orientation flights.
7. Electric fencing protects your hives from bears and other honey loving pests. The easiest preventative measure to avoid having your colonies demolished by a curious bear is to hook up an electric fence. Once set up, remember to test the wires at least once a month. Regularly look for signs of disturbance or digging around the perimeter. One morning we found a couple wires down along one side of our apiary. The hives looked untouched. It appeared a large animal had ran into the wires and bounced off in the other direction. Watch this video on how to train a bear to avoid your apiary.
A guaranteed lifetime of joy, adventure and learning - basic beekeeping can be covered in a few years. Yet there's still so much to learn - queen rearing, splitting methods, re-queening, bearding or swarming, swarm cells or supersedure cells, apitherapy, and so much more.
Good luck on your lifetime learning adventure with honeybees!