What I Learned in My First 3 Months of Beekeeping

I've learned a ton since I got my first nucleus hive (or nuc) in May. My bees and I have been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster -- well, mostly just me, as I fumbled through the initial set up highs and lows. I didn't ever see the queen, but for the first few weeks there were larvae so that seemed like a good sign. The queen died at some point, whether because I accidentally killed her or the worker bees staged a coup. I only know because the worker built a number of queen cells -- special, larger homes to rear new baby queens. Either way, they successfully replaced her, and the new queen isn't shy at all. 

The new queen, surrounded by her adoring fans.

The new queen, surrounded by her adoring fans.

 

Prepare for the bees

LEARN ALL OF THE THINGS. There is so much to know about bee keeping, and luckily there are tons of fantastic places to learn. Some of my favorite books are Backyard Beekeeper and Homegrown Honey Bees. Online there's tons too -- beesource.com message board, Facebook groups like Women in Beekeeping, which is a supportive, judgement-free zone, and the beekeeping subReddit, which is also (surprisingly) supportive and chill. Like every Internet community, beekeepers have their own etiquette, which you will suss out very quickly (like never mention Flow Hives). Some groups are more intense; the ones above are pretty relaxed and friendly.

Start doing all of this well before you get your bees -- as much as a year before! I got my bee stuff for Christmas, and began learning then. 

Also, get all your gear -- the hives, the suit, etc, and get your bee yard set up well in advance. Figure out what you want to do about electric fencing, if you need it, (this was so intimidating to me. Electricity?! NOOO. My dad helped with this part.)

Now you can...

Get the bees

This is maybe obvious...? But what I mean here is a couple of things: learn everything you can before you get the bees -- read all the books, join all the Facebook groups, watch all the videos. But none of that really prepares you to look a box of 10,000 or more bees in the face. I felt like a knew a lot by the time I picked up my nuc; but I knew nothing.

In addition to getting one group of bees, a lot of beekeepers recommend starting with two hives. I didn't do this -- it was double the cost, and bees are an expensive hobby to start. And what if I didn't even like beekeeping?

But now I know that it's actually probably easier to have two hives, in some ways. If one hive I struggling, you can take some frames of honey and larvae from your second hive, to help bolster the population. You also have the benefit of observing both -- watch how they do things, the same or differently. 

I'll be getting a second hive this year. A man in the next town is selling some of his hives, so I'll be buying an established colony form him. Which is great, because it means I may get honey this year.

Listen to the bees

They know what they need better than any of us idiot humans, and as many in my bee groups has said, they don't read the bee books. Meaning, they will exhibit plenty of baffling behavior that isn't covered in any manual. 

And notice I used the word "listen" -- not "watch" or hear". Observe them closely, and they will tell you what's going on. Take that knowledge to heart...and back to one of your bee groups to discuss.

And most importantly ...

Trust the bees.

The bees are smart. (Like scary smart.) The bees know how to survive as a hive. Support them, help them, but don't pester them. It was so hard when I first got them -- I wanted to peek inside the hive every day! But that's not to good for them. So I started out going in every week, which is the maximum you should go in. Now I've settled into a biweekly routine, and that seems God for everyone. 

It was hard when I realized they didn't have a queen -- I wanted to jump in there and fix everything! I wondered if I should buy a new queen right away and put her in the hive. But instead, I took a step back: they were already handling it. They'd built the queen cells (many of them) so thy could raise their own new queen. So I tried to be patient, and just observe. I checked the hive again a week later, and saw that at least one of the queens had hatched, and chewed her way out of the cell. So I closed the hive back up, and checked again two weeks later. And I was greeted by her royal highness herself! I was really starts truck, and also super proud of my bees.  There will be times when I need to step in a little more, like dealing with pests like Varroa mites, but I'll let them guide me.

Keeping bees has already been so different than what I expected it to be. I know I'll continue to learn lots more..and I'll definitely be sharing it here.