It’s very nearly time for us to get our bees that we ordered back in October/November. It’s fair to say that Stuart and I are very excited about becoming backyard beekeepers. We’re also pretty nervous – which I think is understandable. Just waiting for the OMG! What do we do now? moments, which I’m sure will happen sometime.
What We’ve Done to Educate Ourselves as Backyard Beekeepers
The very first thing we did back in the Fall was get back in contact with the Comal County Beekeepers Association (CCBA). I went to a couple of meetings several years ago, but at that point hadn’t done a lot of beekeeping reading. I really didn’t understand half of what was said!!!
It was very different this time.
We’d done quite a bit of reading and could understand beekeeping speak. What I really like about this group is that everyone is really keen on “natural beekeeping”. Raising healthy bee colonies rather than chemically enabling weak/unhealthy colonies.
What does “natural beekeeping” actually mean?
Natural beekeeping seems to mean different things to different people.
For Stuart and I, it means allowing our bees to live their lives as much as nature intended, as far as possible. Of course intervention, by us, will be necessary as we learn the moods of our bees, keeping them healthy and managing the hives so that we don’t lose bees by swarming.
Books on Backyard Beekeeping
Luckily, I found several books of interest at our local library, the Mammen Family Public Library.
Michael Bush’s The Practical Beekeeper, Beekeeping Naturally
Top Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder & Heather Harrell
Keeping Bees with a Smile by Fedor Lazutin
Stuart added that last book to our Bee Library at home. Michael Bush’s book was recommended to us at CCBA and we’ve found it very useful. We’ve avidly ‘devoured’ all three books and had lively discussions so we’re both sure that we are on the same page when it comes to our expectations. Les Crowder is also on Facebook (Les Crowder Natural Beekeeping) so we’ve started following him there too.
It’s probably true to say that we’ve read, talked and listened as much as we have been able. We have tried to fully prepare ourselves for the arrival of our bees.
“All” we need now is practical experience.
That’s where nervousness creeps in. Both very much aware that there’s quite a gap between book learning and practical experience. We’re determined to bridge that gap as quickly as we can, hopefully without too many stings on the way!
Different Types of Hives
Langstroth, Layens, Horizontal, Top Bar, Warre, Skeps, Flow Hives ……all available for the backyard beekeeper!
We did not know, when we set out on this journey, that there were so many types of bee hive. To us, it seems that the ‘traditional’ Langstroth hive was made for the commercial beekeeper – it’s easy, if heavy, to move those boxes around the country from orchard to orchard. Stuart has build a Langstroth hive and that’s what we’ll use for our bees when we get them home.
A horizontal top bar hive is what we intend on using for our future as backyard beekeepers. We’re already planning on acquiring more bees through a contact we’ve made through CCBA. These will go into our top bar hive. You move frames instead of heavy boxes which kind of appeals to us. It’s also easier to make a horizontal hive compared with a Langstroth – that appeals to Stuart!
Right now, Stuart’s happily making frames for the horizontal hive using a jig he made especially for the job. Ask any of the kids – their Dad really likes jigs when doing any woodwork
Decisions We’ve Made For Our Bees
Just like there are many different hives around, there are many different ‘systems’ for backyard beekeepers. Seems that beekeepers need to find a system that simply works for them and their bees.
No “right or wrong”, just different.
Below is a list of what we’ve decided to do – got to start somewhere! Experience may cause us to make changes, but this is where we begin:
- No foundation in our hives so that bees will build their own natural honey comb with the cell size that they naturally like to build.
- Make sure to leave plenty of honey in the hive for their winter food supply. Honey is so much better for them than sugar.
- Only feed sugar syrup if necessary ie if they’re starving!
- If we do have disease problems we’ll treat with more natural remedies first – chemicals/drugs will be a last resort.
- Top bar hives is the way we’ll go long term.
- Natural in, natural out – any foreign substance you put into the hive will come out in the honey or way. Don’t want any of that in our honey!
Weather – a Tool for More Learning
I think we’ll all agree that the weather has been interesting this spring. It got hot in February, and everything starts blooming. We’re told at CCBA that bees are ‘breaking cluster’ and getting out of their hives, starting to forage, and starting to make brood.
Next thing we know is that we have 3-4 days of temperatures in 20’s and 30’s – too cold for bees to fly, but they’ve started breeding and they need food. Probably a situation when you will need give them sugar to stop starvation.
Then wildflowers are in full bloom but there’s no rain! Might have blooms everywhere but they won’t necessarily be producing the nectar that the bees need!
It seems to me, that to be a successful backyard beekeeper you need to stay very much in tune with whatever Nature throws our way. This goes hand in hand with learning the buzz of a healthy & happy hive, recognizing their “Queenless roar”. Being able to follow the natural movement of bees in and out of their hive as they go about their daily business.
I find that the prospect of being more in tune with nature has a great deal of appeal. Also believe, with climate change that being more in tune with our local weather is going to be more and more important in our future as backyard beekeepers. Looking forward to it!
Tools of the Trade for the Backyard Beekeeper:
Everyone tells us that this is really important to use but not overuse. Stuart got me one for my last birthday and right now we’re practicing using it to get some nice smoke going. We’ve also been checking up on the best fuels to use, so that we can have a good supply on hand. We read about using dried rosemary, cilantro, mint. I’ve got lots of that in the garden! I’ve grown some particularly nice Tuscan rosemary – lovely thick and lush growth. Went out and collected some this morning. A big bunch is hanging on my back porch and should dry quite quickly – breezy and hot out there!
Everything is nearly ready here. Where the hives are going is basically an old platform that the kids used to play on. We just have to make a low fence around it to keep the chickens and dogs (particularly Charlie!) away from the hives. Also a gate and step up to the platform.
You can see from the photos that the hive yard is protected by trees and the hillside at the back, in the east. There is also a clump of trees on the west side to protect from strong afternoon sun.
We had a long discussion about the best way to orient the hives with respect to the sun’s movements/compass direction. In the end orientation was decided to give us the maximum space behind US! I had visions of needing a quick escape and not wanting to fall off the platform!!
Information – “Hot off the Press”
Just before doing a final check on this blog before publishing, I got today’s Keeping Backyard Bees Newsletter in my inbox. Their 10 Quick Tips for New Beekeepers made me very happy.
Think it shows that we are definitely on the right track, and it confirms much of what I’ve written above.
Bring it on Girls! We’re ready.