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Jesu, Juva

Metábasis eis állo génos (3-13)

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Leading up to 2020, Asher was seeking something to own and do beyond keeping chickens, which he shared with Charlotte but was largely her domain. I rejected backyard goat–keeping, but bees were an intriguing option as our town allows you to keep bees provided you have taken a class. So we took a class (online, sadly) from our county beekeeping association over the winter of 2020-2021. We spent about 8 hours in class, and later in the spring several hours at a practical exam and a paper exam. Of all our time in class, the practical exam was the most beneficial. Several of the seasoned beekeepers conveyed to us a vision of what I call “low-anxiety” beekeeping. Excessive anxiety over questions such as whether and when you need to feed your bees, or whether and how you can head them off from swarming, is generally counter–productive and can steal a lot of the joy of beekeeping.

Late in winter we ordered all of our equipment. We spent a little more money on the nice–looking Hoover hives, got our initial frames, nails, foundation wax, and other equipment (feeders, hats, gloves, smoker, hive tool, wire embedder) from the local Bailey Bee Supply, and ultimately found cheaper frames (deep, medium) and foundation (medium) from Western Bee Supplies. By the end of the year we had the materials to equip three hives each with two deep bodies and two medium supers, and had spent about $1700 on the trio including supplies from Home Depot to make an elevated stand. Assembling frames is a time–consuming but satisfying task.

Deep frame and foundation

Placement of the hives was tricky! Our property has a lot of shade, but we found some space in the back of our garden that was relatively sunny, open, and also faced towards the south. This worked fairly well, although it is sometimes a little nerve-wracking to work in the garden. Generally the bees have kept to themselves; only twice have we had innocent bystanders standing near the garden get stung.

Starter hives

We started out with two nucleuses from our friendly local Garden Supply Company, at the time each costing $195. We had a much more exciting ride with our two hives than I ever expected for first–year beekeeping. Over the course of six months, we had: (1) one hive send off a swarm high in a tree, which Asher captured in the face of a coming rainstorm to form a third hive; (2) evidently we failed to capture the queen, or she later died, so we recombined this hive with the other hive; (3) which later sent off a swarm that we failed to capture; (4) a friend found a feral swarm in an abandoned hive of his, which we brought back to our house; but (5) in the dearth of fall I believe this hive robbed both of our other two hives, resulting in only one hive entering into winter. We purchased another nucleus this spring ($215) and are starting out our second year once again with two hives.

I remember remarking that it would be good for Asher to experience husbandry, to be responsible for something which was under his influence but not completely under his control. It turned out to be a great lesson for me as well!

Another thing that I didn’t expect as a first–year beekeeper was the degree to which we had to wrestle with varroa mites. Twice in our first year we had to treat our hives for varroa mites ($100 for two formic acid treatments and personal protection equipment) when at least one hive had extremely high mite load.

Some of the most interesting bee behaviors we observed were swarming, washboarding, bearding, and orienting flights.

Bearding

Written by Scott Moonen

March 26, 2022 at 8:29 am

Posted in Miscellany, Personal

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