Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The weather today was unseasonably warm and it made my spirits soar to see how busy my bees were. I also saw a lot of pollen being brought into the hive which is another sign that things are on track for the busy season.
Beekeeping is such wonderful hobby and rewarding in more ways than one. I almost didn’t take the leap into it and I certainly wouldn’t have if I had weighed the pros and cons in my honeybee-ignorant mind. The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m speaking to all of you who think beekeeping sounds like an interesting or worthwhile hobby. I’m not saying to jump right in without doing your research and (more importantly) connecting with some experienced beekeepers but I am encouraging you to get busy checking off your beginner beekeeper to-do list.
Beginner Beekeeper To-Do List (to Prepare for Spring)
The truth is that if you’re hoping to have some hives this spring, then you’re already behind. It’s not impossible to get caught up at this point, though, so here’s my recommended to-do list:
1. Read! There is so much wonderful information out there about all things beekeeping. Read about hive design (you can start with one of my previous blog posts Langstroth, Top Bar or Warre?). Check out books from your library, and read what beekeepers are posting about on beekeeping forums. Also, many local beekeeping associations have a library that you can borrow from.
2. Get in touch with your local beekeeping association. Start attending regular meetings. It’s a wonderful source for local connections and you will certainly meet some beekeeping veterans that are generous with their time and knowledge. I don’t think my bees would’ve made it through my first season had it not been for the kindness and experience of a local beekeeper that I met through the association.
3. If you decide you’re going to take the plunge it’s time to order bees! Many, if not most places are sold out of nucs and packages already. You can still find them but you definitely want packages no later than halfway through April and nucs no later than the beginning of May.
4. When shopping around for bees ask the supplier where their bees come from, if they’re successfully overwintered and most importantly, if they’re coming off of pollination. Sometimes, large apiaries will take bees that are weak and unhealthy, coming off of pollination and combine them into packages or nucs and sell them for what may seem like a good price. Believe me, you get what you pay for with bees and equipment.
5. Consider asking a beekeeper you know if they would be willing to mentor you during your first season. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch showing you how to install a package or nuc, it is really valuable to have someone with a good bit of experience alongside you.
6. Keep records! It’s important to always check for certain things during hive inspections and make sure that you write them down. Do you see eggs, larvae, and capped brood? If so, how is the laying pattern? Did you spot the queen? Did you see any bees or brood that look sickly?
Were there any weird or bad smells? How are their food stores? I’m not a fan of feeding bees sugar syrup, and for that reason, I always leave them with more than enough honey but sometimes there is just no avoiding it. After installing most nucs and definitely with packages you will need to provide some sugar syrup for your bees. Sugar syrup can be hard on their systems and cause nosema. If you find yourself having no choice but to feed your bees, check out an earlier blog I wrote: A Better Sugar Syrup Recipe for Feeding Bees. It’s a great recipe that adds essential nutrients and alters the PH of the syrup making it a more nutritious and more easily digested food for our beloved friends.
When to Expect Your First Harvest
The very last thing I want to tell you is not to expect to harvest any honey your first season. It’s not unheard of to have a beginner start out with a crazy successful colony that produces more than they need to overwinter, but it’s definitely not the norm. At the very least, even if you feel that they have produced plenty, wait until close to fall to decide, because in most areas, your bees will go through a significant amount of the stores just making it through the late part of summer when there is not as much nectar available but still a ton of mouths to feed.
Enjoy your hives. Bees are such noble and amazing creatures. Naturally, I expected to learn some things when I started keeping bees but they have taught me so much more than I could have anticipated.
Lindsay Williamson is a certified beekeeper who owns and operates a small apiary called Backyard Honey with her partner Vance Lin. They specialize in completely natural, unfiltered, raw honey and honey products. You can contact her by email.
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