Some Serious Beekeeping Advice

There’s a certain cruelty to beekeeping: By the time you finally figure out what you’re doing, you’ll likely lack the drive to do it. And by drive, I mean the DMV will have revoked your license because you’ll be old and decrepit and generally untrustworthy to operate a motor vehicle. The learning curve for beekeeping is that long and arduous. 

This is my tenth year keeping bees, at least if you count the first five years which were mostly me killing bees. So in commemoration of ten years of beekeeping, I thought for once I’d actually try to give some practical advice on this blog, so here it goes: 

For bees, the next three months are incredibly important. Hives aren’t lost during winter. They’re lost during July, August, and September. Usually what happens is beekeepers (myself included) get really excited about bees in the spring. As spring progresses toward summer, some of that excitement fades because, let’s face it, working hives is hard work. Harvesting honey during the middle of July is even harder work. Once your honey is in jars or buckets or barrels, you feel like you’ve accomplished your goal and take a well-deserved rest. Wrong. At least here in NC, July, August, and September are the most crucial months in beekeeping. Often there is a severe summer dearth of nectar and pollen. Couple this with exploding varroa levels, and you’ve got a recipe for a dwindling hive. So by the time October rolls around, you may only have a few frames of bees, which is not what you want going into winter. Though that hive will likely die during a February arctic freeze, it was really lost in late summer.  

So my advice is this: steel yourself for the upcoming dog days of summer and invest in a bee jacket with good wicking technology. It’s a lot cheaper than buying new bees each year.

Happy July 4th!

19 thoughts on “Some Serious Beekeeping Advice

  1. I love your honesty. I am in my third year of keeping poultry…boy its not a walk in the park either. Big learning curve and when you think you have it sorted, you don’t.

  2. My better half cared for bees for several years in our yard. One year, half the hive swarmed onto the neighbor’s tree. They were frightened of bees. He had to coax them back over. When the bee die-off started, they began to merge with the meaner bees. Eventually, we lost what was left.

    It was great having our own honey from our yard.

      1. I usually buy honey by the case (or 2). It’s one of my main food sources — especially when I have a full-blown gastroparesis attack. There is nothing like all-natural, unpasteurized honey to sooth the stomach.

  3. Excellent advice. I know we feel like we’re constantly playing catch-up. But they are such interesting creatures; I can’t help but remain fascinated with them.

    1. I’m always fighting that battle too, trying to stay caught up with them. There’s always something that needs doing. Bees aren’t the low maintenance insects that most people think.

  4. I don’t know that it’s the unbearable heat that bothers the hubs as much as the ornery bees. But, I am constantly reminding him that he likes the heat and ornery bees is why he has a bee suit. . . .

    1. This time of year, the bees are awful. Even though it can be in the 90s, sometimes I actually prefer to work bees during midday because most of the ornery foragers are out doing stuff, that way I don’t have to deal with a bunch of ornery bees.

  5. I am in my third attempt at bee keeping, and I have already lost the queen. My first year I actually got them through the winter only to have them die in the spring due to checking too early when it was too cold, I think. We usually have a different weather issues here in the spring and summer that it is too cool or rainy to check them. This year I waited until it was warmer to check them, and by then the hive was already devastated. It is definitely an expensive hobby. But it is a sentimental one for me as almost of of my equipment is from my cousin who was a beekeeper and now tragically deceased. So I would like to keep his legacy alive but not doing well so far.

    1. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it really does take a good four or five years to get the basics down. Weather plays a huge factor with bees. I’d imagine all that hot weather yall been having probably is tough on them too right now if there is not a lot blooming. I know we in a dearth here in NC.

  6. Love your honesty and humor…. I’ve already failed at growing lavender from seed indoors and ginseng from seed in the woods. Bees were on my future list, but I’m rethinking that. I think I’ll try worms instead. They don’t sting.

    1. FYI: If you try worms, don’t use nightcrawlers. They have a tendency to crawl out of the compost bin at night and escape onto your floor. Don’t ask me how I know.

  7. I was toying with bee keeping, but you may have scared me off of it. That, and the fact I am highly allergic to bee venom. The last time I got stung, I managed to make it to the ER and flopped over in the door way. Maybe I’ll stick with goats. You are a great writer, sir. Please keep it up.

    1. Yes, stay away from bees. Beekeeping is an expensive enough hobby as is without er bills.

      You’re a great writer too. I need to get back over to your blog and get caught up. The past few months I’ve been so busy with farm stuff that I’ve neglected keeping up with other bloggers, but I plan to go on a blog reading binge soon and yours will be at top of the list.

  8. Your post is encouraging. Thank you! I thought I’d stayed in front of the swarming instinct only to have them swarm and be left queenless through my removal of queen cells without realizing they’d swarmed. I’m starting over and hope I’ll do better in year two.

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