I first experienced the wonders of bee keeping as a young child, standing alongside my father as he tended to his hives. I watched with amazement as he would peek in to the boxes, pry out a frame, and point out to me the workers, the drones, the food stores and, the Queen. He moved with such grace and ease, fluidly removing hive covers and smoking down the bees. If I was lucky he would pop a piece of sweet comb in to my mouth, still warm from the hive. Ever since those days I have dreamt of again keeping bees with my family and in 2012, over 50 years since bees had last resided on our farm, we decided the time had again come.
We spent the winter of 2012 reading as much as we could about bees. Jen and Ryan began working wildly in the wood shop milling lumber and building boxes, bottom boards, hive covers, and frames. It was quite the learning curve and the shop often looked like a bomb had gone off. We went out and scouted sites for our hives and Jen and Ryan built stands and levelled the ground where the hives would be placed.
In February of 2013 we excitedly placed our order for bees which were to come all the way from New Zealand. We called up Urban Bee only to be told we were too late to receive our bees in 2013. Most people, they told us, had placed their orders in November of 2012. We were devastated but consoled ourselves with the thought that now we had an entire year to learn all that we could about beekeeping.
In April 2013 we received a phone call from Urban Bee… “Your bees will be ready for pick up 3 days!”.
Oh my! What a surprise! Where had we put those boxes and hive equipment? We ran around frantically trying to get everything together. The day came and we headed out to collect the bees. As we were driving away we realized we had forgotten to make up sugar syrup to feed them. Ryan started making up a batch while Jen and I drove out to collect them. We received three hives in total, each contained in their own poster tube-like container. The hum of bees in the car on the drive home was extremely exciting!
We worked quickly to “install” the bees, based on the detailed instructions we had been given by Urban Bee. By the time the bees were installed it was dark and quite cool out. We worried about the temperature but thought that the still quite hot syrup would keep the bees warm. This was a disaster! The hot syrup in the hives melted the wax foundations right off the frames. One of our many newbie mistakes. The bees did well though. At least they knew what they were doing.
The bees continued to do well and we were having so much fun that when Urban Bee called to say that 2 hives had gone unclaimed, we gladly took them on. We then went on to get 12 nucleus colonies from a local apiary! We were just so excited that we couldn’t help ourselves. It was a hot summer day when I went to collect the nucs. When I arrived they had been transferred to cardboard boxes and taped shut. The staff loaded them in to the back of my station wagon and the drive home was uneventful. When I went to take them out of the car however, the cardboard was slippery with melted wax and they tumbled on to the drive way. This had definitely not been part of the plan. Now the bees were furious and noisy!
We placed one nuc on each empty hive and left them to calm down for an hour or so. When it came time to install them they were still quite agitated. We noticed that there were differences in the condition of the frames, however we were too novice, and too flustered by angry bees to pay much attention. Over the next while we noticed that some of our nucs were thriving while others seemed to have stalled. We were baffled. We hired a more experienced bee keeper to review our hives and learned that the weaker hives were queenless. Perhaps their queens had been crushed when the nucs fell from the car. With this knowledge we re-queened the weak colonies and then frantically began building more wooden boxes as our colonies rapidly expanded. All was good again.
When the honey supers went on, the sugar syrup came off. The bees were now on their own. They filled those supers with the most wonderful honey. The taste and feel of it melting on my tongue whooshed me right back to my childhood standing next to my dad. We harvested the honey in August but it took us until December to work up the courage to extract it. Once the supers were off we treated the hives for the common, and bee killing, parasite Varroa using natural products.
By mid July the nectar flows wound down to a halt. The summer dearth had arrived. With this came our first experience with robbing bees- bees who raid other hives and steal their honey which can lead to the robbed hive’s death. Ryan was quick to whip up a set of robber screens which quickly curbed this naughty behaviour.
It was now time to bundle our hives up and prepare them for the cold winter months. Over the winter of 2013 we continued to read and learn about bees. We prepared ourselves for the build up of spring including managing swarms and expanding our apiary by splitting hives. Our hives survived their first winter and over the spring of 2014 we have expanded them up so that we now have more than double the number we started with!
We are now preparing ourselves for the 2014 harvest. There have been a lot of mistakes and we have learned a lot through them. Our bees continue to thrive and the honey flows. My long awaited dream has finally become a reality!