Beekeeping

Beekeeping is a hard hobby.  I mastered maple syrup boiling, chicken rearing, composting, and plenty of other hobby farm tasks fairly quickly, but beekeeping took the longest to figure out. This was especially frustrating because I am a regional planner by training, and bees are a little self-contained society that I theoretically control.  Bend to my will you tiny insects!

I've been beekeeping since 2015. Every year brought new challenges, from being shipped the wrong type of bees, not being given the number of packages I purchased, hive revolt against a weak queen, laying workers, splits gone awry, skunk attack, never ending supersedures, and swarms.  Because we live in the far northern reaches of Michigan where we often have snow on the ground for six months of the year, keeping bees alive throughout the winter is never a sure thing.

I've had as few as one hive and as many as six in a given season.  I usually try to start with two so that I can notice and correct mistakes with the other hive.  From 2015-2018 I got packages, including Italian, Carniolan, and Saskatraz.  Only the Carniolans were close to successful.  Partway through one season I replaced my queens with Russian breeds, and those rocked through the following winter until they swarmed and disappeared. Carniolans have otherwise been my best bet.

Although I have had a lot of major setbacks, I have become adept at catching swarms.  As of 2021 I have caught two!  The first had landed in a low plum tree not far from the hives and was too easy. The second swarm landed in the top of a 60' spruce tree near my sugar shack.  I could not climb the tree or any adjacent tree, nor could I hoist up a trap to get them.  Rather than let them escape, I went nuclear and skillfully chainsawed the tree down, dropping it in a narrow gap in the surrounding forest.  The queen survived the crushing fall and regrouped the swarm nearer to the ground where I could scoop them up.  Between these two swarms, I am ready for literally anything.

Despite all of the trials and tribulations, I have harvested honey on four occasions.  The payoff feels great, even if the honey is worth less than the investment (so far).  Maybe someday I'll break even! 2021 was a banned year, with five hives producing several supers of honey.  Hopefully this is the start of things to come and not a fluke.

2016: 1.75 gallons (21 lbs)

2019: just under 5 gallons (60 lbs)

2020: 2.5 gallons (30 lbs)

2021: 16.25 gallons (195 lbs)

Bees - September 2021.jpg
Installing a package of bees

2021 Status: I harvested several supers of honey from all of my hives just after Labor Day and spun it out in my extractor.  Nearly 200 lbs!  Thank you bees.  In exchange, I fed them more than an equal amount of 2-1 sugar water in exchange to fatten them up for winter.  At least three of my five hives are getting quite heavy as of mid-October and likely have enough stores to survive.  I'll keep feeding them until they stop taking it.  Soon I'll bundle them up for winter in tar paper and several feet of snow and hope for the best.  I treated all of my hives with Amitraz strips this fall to keep them in good shape against mites.