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What I have learned so far

As a novice beekeeper or a novice of any trade, what you learn by making mistakes always seems to stick well in your brain.  I’m still brooding over losing half of my hive to swarming.  Looking back on the last two months here’s what I see:

  • I came home one day to find them “bearding” outside the hive.  I panicked, thought they were swarming.  Now I know the difference between the two.  Bearding: a considerable amount of bees just calmly gathered outside, on the hive, in a hot day like you would sit on the patio to get a breeze.  Swarming: a lot of bees flying all over the place like in a horror movie before settling someplace away from the hive.   I promptly removed the corrugated sheet blocking off the bottom, just left the screen bottom board intact for better air flow.  It worked.
  • Honeybees need water nearby.  We have plenty of birdbaths spread around the garden and I make sure they’re filled to the brim as well as cleaning them more often than once a week.  It’s an interesting sight to see them lined up around the rim, drinking water.

    Taking a sip from one of the birdbaths

  • Feeding according to your hive, not to a specific rule.  I fed them twice a day, that was 2 quarts a day.  Then reduced it down to once a day when I saw the third super starting to fill up.   They’re busy foraging now, like….bees .  I may have over-fed them while needing to find a balance to it.

    Gathering around the feeder.

  • Anything can happen.  A week before they swarmed, they strung my face while I was feeding them…for the first time since having them.  My face looked like a Klingon from StarTrek for a couple of days.  This incident lead me to find out why bees sting since I don’t believe I did anything to provoke them.  Bad weather maybe, skunk or raccoon visits the previous night perhaps, handling too rough, or they have no queen and rearing a new one…all these could make them overly defensive.  Note to self: wear the vail even when you’re just feeding them..
  • Don’t make any assumptions. Getting strung in the face lead me to make an assumption when I saw queen cells during the inspection the next day.  I thought they were emergency queen cells.  I thought I must have flattened her by accident or she’s not well and the bees are annoyed at me for rousting them while they’re trying to rear a new queen.  Wrong.
  • First year honeybees DO swarm.  If the conditions are right, warm winter, early summer and having a lot of surplus food, they will proliferate.  Mine, within two months of settling in a new hive.
  • Each hive is unique to itself.  Don’t base your decisions on generalizations about what bees are supposed to do.  I could have prevented the swarming if I hadn’t been so concerned about feeding them.  If I hadn’t believed that a young hive doesn’t swarm.   I overlooked many indications that the bees were just about to swarm.

Over all, half a hive is a small price to pay for the experience.  Put in other words, is the hive half empty or half full?  Rhetorical but relevant philosophically.  In any event I still have a lot to learn.  My consolation is that there is a colony of independent honeybees somewhere in the watershed area telling each other that “See, we don’t have to smell that smoke any more.  Just fresh air.”