"It was the oldest sound in the world. Souls flying away." The Secret Life of Bees

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beekeeping adventures: conclusion of year 1

I meant to do this final beekeeping update months ago, but I'm just now getting around to it.  The bees are in their hive for the winter at this point and have been for months.  We ended up not getting any honey this year.  In the classes I took, they said that sometimes you get honey the first  year and sometimes you don't.  So, I knew in the back of my mind not to expect it, but it was still a bit disappointing.  

Healthy pattern:  Brood in the center/bottom and capped-over honey around the top edges.

Here you can see honey in most of the cells.  The top left cells are capped over.

Things seemed to be going the 'textbook' way until July or so.  At that point, the hive became honey bound, meaning the bees filled up every available cell in the brood boxes with honey.  This seems like an awesome thing, but it's not.  If all of the cells are filled with honey, the queen has no where to lay eggs.  Without new eggs constantly being laid, the worker bee population will dwindle down very quickly and the hive will just die out.  I ended up putting some empty frames in the center of the brood boxes hoping that they would get the hint and build out new honeycomb for the queen to lay eggs in.  It worked!  Within a very short amount of time, they seemed to correct things and restore balance (a good mixture of honey and brood).  It seemed like things were back on track.

This little lady decided to sting Ben.  Luckily for him,  he was wearing thick gloves.  She was stuck like this for a minute or so before we helped her get free.  Although he got stung a few times this year, I'm happy to report that I didn't receive a single sting!

I guess I shouldn't say we didn't get any honey.  I did have to remove some honeycomb that the bees built in the wrong spots, so we did get to enjoy some of their delicious honey, which I am very thankful for.

After the honey bound situation resolved, things seemed to be moving in the right direction.  The bees were thriving and they filled both brood boxes with a nice pattern of brood and honey.  At that point, I added a honey super on top.  We were in the middle of summer at this point, leaving them plenty of time to fill it up (or so I thought).  However, they never did a single ounce of work in the honey super.  They never even got around to building the honeycomb in the cells.  Every week or so I would check in on them expecting big things, every week I would find the bees looking healthy, working, and seeming to be doing great, but only down in the brood boxes - never any action in the honey super.  They were hanging out on the honey super, but just not doing any work.   

Cleaning up a drop of honey on top of a frame

Even if we didn't get any honey,  I am so grateful for the bees.  They  filled my heart with joy, happiness, and love.

So, that's it for this year.  I never did quite figure out what happened.  Maybe I did something wrong, maybe my timing was off, maybe that's just the way things ended up this year.  It was strange to see them thriving and working away, but never doing anything outside of their brood boxes (if there are any beekeepers out there reading, please pass along any advice/suggestions).  

Now we wait.  Hopefully they will survive the winter.  I'm looking forward to giving this another go next year.  It has been one of the best experiences of my life.  2013 started off rough for me.  I was dealing with some very difficult things and the bees brought me so much joy and filled me with hope, exactly what I needed at the time.