Beekeeping is a hard hobby. I have mastered maple syrup boiling, chicken rearing, composting, and plenty of other hobby farm tasks, but to date a mastery of beekeeping has eluded me. This is especially frustrating because I am a regional planner by training, and bees are a little self-contained society that I theoretically control. Despite my best efforts and years of mistakes, stumbles, and countless stings, every year brings new challenges and setbacks. Bend to my will you tiny insects!
I've been beekeeping since 2015 and so far I have had six hives out of twelve survive a winter, and four actually produce enough honey for me to harvest. Failures have been across the board and include 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 2020 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 three occasions. The payoff feels great, even if the honey is worth far less than the investment (so far). Maybe someday I'll break even!
2016: 1.75 gallons
2019: just under 5 gallons
2020: 2.5 gallons
2021 Status: Two strong hives survived the winter of 2020-21 and a third just barely scraped by. I split the strong hives and now have six total, all Carniolan. Most are growing quickly through the early-summer with two hives doing especially well drawing out fresh comb. Will this be another successful honey year? Six hives drastically increases my chances of success!