As I write this I’m certain one of my hives has hive beetles and there’s a hurricane that might hit us early this week (Editor’s Update: 10/30/12 Hurricane Sandy did not hit us as expected in Upstate New York, but others in CT, NJ, PA, and of course NYC & the 5 boroughs where not so lucky. If you want to donate to the recovery effort -> Red Cross.) There is little I can do about either at this point. That is the essence of having bees though, lots of uncertainty and crossed fingers.
My bees are all prepped for winter. I closed up the entrances enough so that the bees can come and go, but field mice can’t sneak in looking for a warm place to crash. The inner top board is slightly propped for ventilation. Now it’s up to the ladies to keep their queen warm and fed until spring. Depending on our levels of snowfall this year, I may not see them again for a long time.
My first summer with bees went by so fast. I would check them every 2-3 weeks and each time it felt like I had just been out there. Every time I went into the hive it was like unraveling a little mystery. How are they doing? Do they need me to help them somehow? How much extra honey will there be? Is there something I’m not seeing that might cause a problem later? The list goes on and on.
I was able to get about 1.5 gallons of honey from just one super of one hive. The supers are the boxes your hive lives in and you can take the top ones off to harvest them for honey if things go right. My one hive didn’t produce enough in their honey super and I didn’t want to be greedy so I left everything for them. The other had plenty stored down below so I only took the top super. I should also add I have medium, eight-frame supers, which is about as small as you can go, so 1.5 gallons was pretty amazing.
I actually extracted it completely on my own. I’m only about 5’2″ and don’t have the best upper body strength, but somehow I was able to do the whole process without and help. It was a bit of a sticky mess but it was incredible filling up those jars with my very own honey. I made sure to set aside a quart of honey for the lovely people who let me keep my hives on their land.
If my hives are strong enough to survive winter (and hurricanes and pests) then in the spring I’m going to try to split them out and put new hives at the land where I’ll be growing vegetables. If the spring weather is good, there’s also a chance I’ll get more honey in the spring. Or I could go out there and it could be tragic, but I’m trying to focus on the positives.
What I learned this year is to be a beekeeper you need to be a bit stubborn, have little fear of failure, be very willing to learn, and have an immense appreciation for Mother Nature. Having a good mentor certainly doesn’t hurt either (thank you Aaren!!).
You can’t fear getting stung (although it is good to be prepared for it!), you can’t fret over the worst case scenario, you can’t be greedy about getting honey, and you can’t feel weird about not having all the answers.
It’s a lot like having kids in that everyone you ask for advice will have their own opinion, and you flip flop between feeling wonderful and in awe, or being certain you are probably screwing everything up.
I’m so glad I took the plunge and did it this year. I can’t imagine not doing it. Bees are probably the most incredible little insects. They are so smart and interesting and darn hard working. I can honestly say I will miss them quite a bit this winter.
If you live in or near Saratoga County I highly recommend checking out SABA or your nearest bee group through American Beekeeping Federation. Read some books, and websites, over the winter too and start saving up money (it’s not the cheapest of hobbies to begin). Feel free to ask me questions as well. Although I certainly don’t know everything, I’m happy to help or direct you on the right path to someone who can.