Sam Comfort harvesting honey

Keeping it Simple Beekeeping

Friends, if you ordered a new queen from me in 2016, Sam Comfort from Anarchy Apiaries is the guy who raised her.  I couldn’t be more pleased his queens. And with Sam…who is a delight.

If you don’t raise your own queens from local surviving stock, and if your bees overwinter some long, cold months, I suggest you get your queens from Sam. Or, if you’re near Cincinnati, contact me. :) I probably have a few of Sam’s queens on hand for you.

But it’s not hard to rear your own queens. You might screw it up initially, but think of what all you’ll learn. And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t immediately succeed…then again, you just might. What fun that would be, yes? And eventually, you will. :)

Why Do I Keep Bees?

So. Yesterday I received news that Deb’s Uncle Doyle in Waco, Kentucky has collected tons of honey this year. Over the years he’s kept many hives, but now that he’s older he keeps only one—simply because he loves it…the heat in all that protective clothing keeps him from expanding his little operation again.

Anyway, I was bummed. Which, I quickly admit, is a lousy response to such news. It’s not that I’m bummed for him, I’m bummed for me. I’m envious. Although I have to say that I’m cherishing what little (gorgeous) honey I collected this year, so I guess you could say that I’m appreciative.

When that look of pain crossed my face, Deb asked me a simple quesion: Why is it that you keep bees? Which made me think for a while. It seems this answer should be simple. Or at least clear. And it’s not.

After much silence, I responded that I want a hobby that is both challenging and rewarding.

There. That’s my answer. So I guess I shouldn’t be entirely disappointed if I don’t harvest loads of honey each year…and in the long run, I’m not. I’m grateful that I’m up to my eyeballs in educating myself, in reading about bees, in thinking about bees, in planning ahead for next year, in developing a beekeeping philosophy, in spreading an interest in bees and beekeeping, in watching what blooms with a new eye, in paying closer attention to the weather, in thinking about the long-term consequences of chemicals in our lives, in aesthetics. Oh, Reader, you know I could go on and on.

Ten more reasons I want to keep bees:

  1. It’s not boring
  2. I want to give away honey
  3. I want my friends to learn more about bees
  4. Managing hives intellectually challenges me
  5. Beekeeping is an art
  6. Most of the time, there is no right or wrong way
  7. After all the reading and thinking and talking and experimenting, in the end, I have to go with my gut
  8. Managing hives demands innovation, which is something I  need to practice…I’m not entirely comfortable with it.
  9. I’m going to make some TwoHoneys T-shirts. They’ll be very cool
  10. Want one?

But, honestly, I’m still amazingly disappointed to have such a small crop of honey this year.

On Second Thought

You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d better stick with beekeepers who share my newly emerging philosophy of natural beekeeping: chemical-free hives, foundationless frames, small-cell comb, etc.

Then again, if I don’t work with beekeepers who subscribe to other philosophies, how can I hope to spread what I’m learning about natural beekeeping?  I don’t want to come off as an elitist know-it-all. And I’m sure I can learn a lot from experienced beekeepers of all philosophies.

But this fellow I mentioned in an earlier post greeted me by immediately telling me all about the chemicals with which to treat the hives at what time of the year. That’s not at all the way I want to go.  It doesn’t sound like fun. I want keeping bees to be a fun and innovative and creative and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.

Two Hives and One Entrance Reducer

So, yesterday I slogged up to the two snow-dusted hives with my one-and-only entrance reducer. And then I stood there. One entrance reducer and two hives poses one of those philosophical moments: To which hive do I choose to give the advantage of warmth?

The hive we call the “swarm hive” is the stronger of the two, and I expect it to winter better than the hive we received through the mail. But this is the first year at this location for each colony, and I don’t think either of them stored enough honey to make for an easy winter. So, do I focus energies on the stronger hive or do I give the leg up to the weaker one?

I’m pretty sure that folks who know would suggest sticking with the stronger hive to ensure successful cold months for them. But I placed the entrance reducer on the weaker hive. I think the swarm hive has the gumption to handle the elements…at least until I can get a second entrance reducer over here. But I feel as if the weaker colony needs all the help it can get, so it now sports a brand new and smaller door.

An Evolving World View or Indolence?

It is soooo cold, and I am soooo worried about the bees. It’s so cold that the 2 liters of Coke we lazily left on the deck EXPLODED last night. See? I am just too lazy to be a good beekeeper. Those girls put me to shame. Sometimes I wonder if my newly forming beekeeping philosophy is a reflection of my evolving world view or if it’s a sign of slothfulness…it’s easier not to requeen than to requeen and not to treat for mites than to treat for them and not to manage the space to avoid swarming than to manage it.

Anyway, I have not yet reduced the size of the opening to the bees’ hives, so today I think I’ll trudge out through the snow and put the entrance reducer in place. Maybe that’ll help them stay warmer. Because they sure as hell haven’t stored enough food for the calories required to keep their temperatures up in this January weather. I am a bad beekeeper. I’ll bet my hat we lose the weaker of the two hives.

Swarm On

The bees’ primary biological drive is to swarm. I read it this morning in Bee Culture magazine, and the moment I read it, it seemed right. Reader, if you’re new to bees, you’ll want to learn that when bees get too crowded in a hive, they raise a second queen. Once the new queen is ready to take on her new job, the old queen leaves the crowded hive with half of that colony’s bees, and they go find a new home. This move is called swarming. The new queen stays back in the established hive and takes on the job of producing more bees. One of our two colonies came to us as a result of a captured swarm.

Bees ensure their species’ survival by swarming…think of it as teenagers leaving home and getting their own apartments. Many beekeepers manage their hives to keep their bees from swarming, because once those bees leave, honey production decreases. I am of a mind to let them swarm. How about that…I am developing a beekeeper philosophy.