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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Year at Bees of the Woods Apiary: June

The month of June is another busy one at Bees-of-the-Woods Apiary. With the pollen and nectar coming in, it is important to stay on top of what is going on in the hives this month.

Honey Supers

Bee on Dandelion

Here in the Northeast, May and June usually have a great nectar flow. The maple trees and dandelions start blooming in April, and the bees take full advantage! It is important to check the hives to make sure they have enough room to store the nectar and honey. If they do not have enough honey supers, they will begin to store honey in the brood chamber, giving the queen less room to  lay eggs!

A good rule of thumb is that if 8 out of 10 framers are mostly full, it’s time to add another super. In late April or early May, we place a queen excluder over the top brood box. A queen excluder is a type of screen with openings big enough for the worker bees to pass through, and small enough to keep the queen from moving into the super. That way, when it’s time to extract, there is nothing but honey in those supers.

Now, some beekeepers call queen excluders “honey excluders”. They say it can slow down the bees – that they won’t store as much honey. A little trick that can help avoid this problem is to put the queen excluder on sideways. It will stick out the sides, but leaves space in the front and back for the bees to move more freely. Also, if we are using brand new frames that have not been drawn out, we will leave the queen excluder off for about a week so they can draw out the frames before we put it on.

Avoiding Swarms

Brood pattern frame

It is also a good idea to keep an eye on the brood chamber to make sure that it has not become too crowded. If the queen runs out of room to lay eggs, it can send the signal that it is time to swarm!

When you do an inspection, make sure there are plenty of empty cells available for the queen to lay eggs. If it seems like she could use some more space, we either add another brood chamber, or remove some frames to start a nuc or boost another hive, and replace those frames with empty frames.

Giving the queen room to lay eggs keeps everybody happy! And, if the queen is older and seems not be laying many eggs, or has a spotty brood pattern, this is also a good time to requeen. That way they will have a young, vigorous queen to see them through winter.

We requeened several of our hives this year – some with bees we raised ourselves, and some with queens we purchased. Shown here is a frame with a wonderful brood pattern. We'll be keeping this queen!

More is Not Always Better

When we first started beekeeping, we started with two hives. Over the years we added hives until we were keeping between 15 and 20 hives at any given time. This seemed to be a good number – we could replace our own losses, and produced enough honey to keep our friends and family happy.

This year, we learned that more is not always better.  We started some nucs and new hives, and brought our apiary up to about 30 hives. It turns out, that for people with full time jobs, who also want to make time for friends and family, it was just too much. It got harder and harder to keep up with all of the work that needed to be done in the hives, and I started to feel like I was too rushed – like I wasn’t being the best beekeeper because I was always hurrying to get to everything that needed to be done.

Beekeeping started to feel less like fun, and more like another source of stress.Also, the fact that we ran out of room inside the electric fence, and had to put some hives outside of it, was probably a clue that we were overdoing it!

So, we are cutting back on our numbers. Some of our hives swarmed and did not raise new queens. So, instead of adding new queens, we are using the nucs we made to requeen those hives. We also combined some hives.

I think that this is an important lesson to have learned – the “right” number of hives will obviously be different for different people. It will depend on where you live, what the area around you is like, what other time commitments you have, and how much time you want to spend on beekeeping.

We decided we would rather have fewer hives, and have time to really get to know and spend time with each one, than to have so many hives that we have to rush through them.

Now that we’ve slowed things down a bit, I’m back to enjoying our beekeeping a lot more!

Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York.  Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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