Bees Buzzing in January

We started keeping bees the summer after Petunia and I took a local beekeeping class in 2008. Keeping bees has been a challenge for me, because they aren’t a cut and dry thing…they are little livestock that need tended and managed and they know more of their needs than I do…sometimes I just get in the way. The first year was a great summer even extracting about 25 pounds of their yummy honey from our first hive. Fortunately my beehive lived through the winter of 2008-2009 with no help from me besides making sure they had honey and a windbreak.

We added two more nucs in the spring of 2009 and tried to make a split of the older hive because it was about to swarm. We also captured our first swarm at the beginning of June even knowing that the swarm wouldn’t have time to make a healthy hive before winter; it was a great learning opportunity to “catch” a swarm. That winter we went into it with 3 strong hives, a weak split and a very weak swarm hive. We left all honey (it wasn’t a lot as most were newer hives) on them for winter reserves.

In the beginning of Feb 2010, I knew my strong 3 hives were alive, but everything was dead in March, less than a month later. We had demolished their windbreak while making a pond nearby and it was really cold those last few weeks of winter, very cold. So, we thought that the bees had frozen since they had some reserves left…not much but there was still some honey. Looking back, I realize that little honey wasn’t enough for them and they actually had starved. I about gave it all up that year.

It was tough to get a nuc that spring 2010, because I wasn’t on any waiting lists and nucs can go fast. Fortunately, I was able to buy three nucs at the beginning of June and tried hard to get them strong enough for winter, actually I didn’t try as hard as my husband; I was still whining about how I had killed all my hives before and had no business killing more. We gave them sugar water to try to get them enough time to pull out their wax on the frames to have space for building their brood and reserves for winter. You may wonder what happened to all the hive frames that were in the other hives that died a few months before…well, the wax moths destroyed them so fast, it was incredible and so very discouraging. So we were starting from scratch with these new bees. Winter came and we just left any honey on the hives and hoped for the best.

Feb 2011 was the annual Indiana Bee School and Randy Oliver was the guest speaker. My husband was able to go with me for the first time and he brought a fresh set of eyes and ears, plus we could double team and hear more information. During lunch my husband told me that Randy talked about the reasons why most bees die in the midwest – the most common reason being starvation. The brood is made up of protein and when the queen goes to make the next generation of bees, there isn’t enough protein to do that and the bees eat the brood to survive but the entire hive dies – we ran to buy pollen patties right then.

When we got home, we put those pollen patties on the hives and two lived, the third had already died by the time we realized our mistake of not enough protein for the first spring generation brood.

Mel Disselkoen was also at the school; his website is a wealth of information where he speaks of making OTS (on-the-spot) queens and splits. We decided to try his method of making splits while also using Randy Oliver’s advice of choosing hygienic hives (where the bees themselves are cleaning up and fighting against the Varroa mites). I just wanted to recoup all of the hives that I had bought (and killed since 2008)…those nucs weren’t cheap and I was sick about all of them dying.

Using the very best hygienic hive, we made one spring split (which created 4 new hives) and a summer split (making 4 nucs). We also split the other hive to have a replacement hive and use the original as a honey hive that Mel talks about in his information, we did not use that hive to make more queens. Winter 2011-2012, we went in with 7 strong hives and 4 nuc sized hives. This January there have been some nice warm days and the bees have been flying for cleansing flights, yay bees buzzing in January…that’s always a welcome sight! Every hive seems to be doing well and I pray that the healthy ones survive. It is a goal to be able to make early spring splits to have nucs to sell this year, it would be nice if my bees could help send our children to college…please bees?

The bees are still buzzing and I am grateful to all of the beekeepers who have been so helpful as I travel and stumble along this beekeeping journey.

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