Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It’s that time of year again. When the bustle of the holiday season dies down, I start to really miss going out and working in my beehives.
So, what to do when honeybee withdrawal sets in? Here is a sampling of a few ideas to occupy your time until spring arrives!
Winter Beekeeping Preparations
Bundle up and visit the hives in spite of the cold! I don’t open them up, but if I press one ear against the side of the hive, I can hear a steady hum that tells me the bees are doing fine in the cozy beehive. No hum? I listen on different sides – sometimes you can’t hear them if they are against the opposite wall. If I don’t hear a hum at all, I make a note to open that hive on a warmer day to see what is going on. If the hive has died, I do a “post-mortem” to try and figure out what went wrong. This can tell me if I need to address any problems prior to winter.
Start getting ready for spring. My last blog (Start Planning Now for Bees in the Spring) was all about how to get ready to start keeping bees in the spring. However, even if you are an experienced beekeeper, there is a lot of work that can be done now to get ready. Inventory equipment – decide what needs to be replaced, what you might need more of, what is in need of repair, etc. Check over your records from last season. Is there anything you would like to change for the coming year? Anything new you want to try?
Try out some beehive related crafts. Making beeswax candles and ornaments is a lot of fun, and not very hard. There are a wide variety of candle molds available to suit every taste – from tapers and pillars to trees, bears, and beehives. Here is a picture of a few types of candles I made, using different colors of beeswax.
Homemade beauty products made from beeswax are another fun craft to try. These can range from fairly complicated to quite easy. I haven’t tried out soap making yet, although I would like to someday. But, with a fairly inexpensive kit, I made enough beeswax lip balm for my friends and family in just a few hours.
If you enjoy wine, you may also want to try out mead making. I have managed to make a decent orange blossom honey mead, and a very nice apple cider mead. Local wine supply shops are a great place to get started. If you enjoy cooking and baking, try out some new recipes that use honey. Friends and family are usually eager to help taste test any new recipes.
I plan on writing future blogs that will explore some of these ideas in more depth. In the meantime, if you take a look through a beekeeping supply catalogue, you will find lots of ideas for interesting crafts and projects, and the supplies to get started. There are many resources on the web as well.
Best Beekeeping Books for Winter Reading
Another idea is to catch up on your beekeeping related reading! Winter is a great time to learn about or refresh your memory on beekeeping. A few that I have found helpful and informative are Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston, Bee-Sentials by John Lawrence Connor, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer, Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad, and The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum.
There are also many books out there that are just plain entertaining! Here are some of my favorites when I am just looking for a good read.
The Beekeeper’s Lament – Hannah Nordhaus. This is the story of beekeeper John Miller, and the challenges facing all beekeepers today. It is informative, entertaining, and written in an engaging manner. I found it hard to put down once I got started.
Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper – Bill Turnbull. This one made me laugh out loud, and feel a lot better about the mistakes I’ve made in beekeeping!
Bees Don’t Get Arthritis – Fred Malone. A lot of great information about the health benefits of honey and products of the hive, and also an entertaining story!
Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper – C. Marina Marchese. Great information about getting started in beekeeping, but told as a story as the author is learning the art of beekeeping. A fun read!
Following the Bloom – Douglas Whynot. I honestly never thought I would be all that interested in a book about migratory beekeeping. This book proved me wrong – a fascinating story with a lot of great information!
Bees Besieged – Bill Marks. Stories of beekeepers, the challenges they are facing today, and why they still love keeping bees. Full of information, it was another book that once started, I couldn’t put down.
Letters from the Hive – Stephen Buchmann. This book really has it all! History, mythology, stories, science, and recipes. Something for everyone!
A Book of Bees – Sue Hubbell. The story of one beekeepers’ adventures in beekeeping told through the seasons. This book reminds me of why I love beekeeping, even on the most frustrating days.
Or, how about watching a good movie about bees or beekeeping? One of my favorites is Sister Bee by Laura Tyler. Sister Bee is not your usual “how – to” beekeeping video. It is a documentary - a series of interviews with six women beekeepers, interspersed with general information about bees, and some beautiful musical background. These beekeepers share what they enjoy about beekeeping, what they find frustrating about beekeeping, and why they love keeping bees in spite of those frustrations. The musical score and the visual images are amazing. It is one of my favorite videos to watch when I can’t go out and get into my beehives myself! Some other videos that I have enjoyed watching are The Monk and the Honeybee: Brother Adam and the Buckfast Superbee, NOVA’s Bees in the Hive, and Vanishing of the Bees.
I hope these ideas help with any honeybee withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing. Have fun, and remember, only a few more months before you can get back into those beehives!