Backyard beekeeping is all the rage nowadays. I have been wanting to try out beekeeping for quite some time, and finally decided to give it a go this spring. Our local farm supply store, D&B Supply, offers a free beekeeping basics class, and there is an active group of beekeepers in the Treasure Valley. I took the class in February, ordered my bees, and waited and waited for them to arrive.
The bees were scheduled to arrive in early April, after the almond fertilization season in California was over. Bees are raised by big commercial beekeepers, who take their bees around the region where they follow the pollination needs of farmers. These bee companies have hundreds or thousands of hives, and since a hive will keep growing and growing, they are able to create new hives for sale by taking bees from a strong, overflowing hive and putting them into their own hive, either with a new queen, or with a queen cell for the bees to hatch into their new queen.
Anyway, all the bees were in California, where they were busy pollinating almonds. On the way up to Idaho, they ran into bad weather, which delayed them by quite a bit. Apparently bees do not like to travel in inclement weather. So I waited, and waited and waited for my bees to arrive.
They finally came in early May. I had ordered a nuc hive, which means that they came in their own little cardboard hive with some frames which they had already started filling with honey. These bees were already working together and were used to their queen. The other option was to buy a box of 10,000 bees and dump, yes dump, as in turn it over and shake it, them into your own hive. No thank you. A nuc is easy peasy – you open your box, take out the frames, and put them into your own hive box. Boom, done.
So, the bees came, and I drove them home with them in the back of my Subaru. The bees stayed mostly in their box. Mostly…A few got out and were exploring the car and enjoying the view. That evening, after the bees had gone to bed, I installed them into their new home – a hive box in our backyard garden. The next morning, I looked out and there they were, already flying around the neighborhood! Bees are pretty adaptable, and if you make changes like moving their hive, at night, then they wake up and get to work without any confusion.
Since it was still fairly early in the spring, flowers weren’t in full bloom yet. That meant that the bees still needed to be fed. They eat sugar water – 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water. And they eat quite a bit – almost 8 cups of this concoction every week and a half to two weeks. Beekeepers can also supplement their bees with pollen patties, which aren’t really pollen, but a mixture of sugar, water, protein supplements, and other stuff that’s good for bees. Bees are normally fed starting in the fall through early spring.
The bees looked great – the hive was strong, the queen bee was laying eggs, and honey was being stored up. They continued doing well for about two months, when something, I have no idea what, happened to the queen. A hive cannot survive without their queen. A queen is what keeps her hive together – she lays the eggs which continuously create new bees, and her pheromones are what lead the bees back to their hive. Without a strong queen, a hive will decline. This is what happened to my hive. When a queen is lost, the bees can sometimes re-queen themselves, by feeding a larvae special food called royal jelly, which will transform her into a new queen. My bees tried to re-queen themselves, but were unsuccessful. And since it was later in the beekeeping season and so very hot at the end of July, I was unable to find another queen to purchase. And so my poor beehive died out. So sad! 😦
But as I mentioned before, there is a good group of beekeepers in the Treasure Valley. One of them just happened to post that he had split one of his hives and had a hive for sale! I brought these bees home and introduced them to their new hive. They of course immediately adapted and went to work harvesting pollen from all the flowers in our neighborhood.
About a week after the bees got comfy in their new home the hive was raided by two different wasp colonies and perhaps another bee hive. In the fall, both bee and wasps double their efforts to store up food for the winter. A beehive, like mine, is a target for other bee and wasp colonies, since it’s a quick and easy way to get food, instead of flying around foraging from flowers. Since my hive was small, they were unable to fend off the invaders. Not even a robbing guard, a wire box that you attach to the front of the hive to confuse robbing wasps and bees, was able to stop the attacks. My bees were wiped out, since they are no match for the stronger wasps.
So there went hive #2. BUMMER! I’ve cleaned out and put away my hive boxes for the winter, and will give it another try in the spring. While my bees were doing well, it was a lot of fun to go sit by the hive and watch all the activity. Worker bees zooming around bringing in pollen and nectar, guard bees hanging around the hive to chase away anything that got too close, bees doing their dances to tell other bees where the good gardens were. The WeeLaddie really enjoyed watching the bees as well, and would go sit out in the garden by himself and watch the action.
I learned quite a bit from the two failed hives, and will be better prepared for next year. I’ll write again next summer to let you know how round #2 of beekeeping goes!