Last May, I shared with you my heartbreaking story about losing 12 out of 13 honeybee colonies over the long harsh Minnesota winter. Since that time, I also lost my sole surviving hive as well. After building up my apiary over the past six years, I was forced to start over.
Over the past few months, I have had many inquiries about how my new colonies are doing so far this year. And I am so very pleased to report that my newly established apiary is thriving beyond my wildest dreams!
I admit that early this spring, my optimism for success this season was greatly diminished as the long, wet cold spring progressed. Three of my new colonies failed as they couldn’t tolerate the horrid spring. But finally, in mid-June when the warmth arrived and the flowers started to bloom, those industrious little honeybees got right to work and made up for all of that lost time. Seriously. I was absolutely amazed at how in just a few short weeks, each of the remaining 11 hives grew from being barely viable to be the size they should be this time of year. Now the apiary is buzzing with busy bees everywhere.
I guess that is why honeybees will never cease to fascinate me. Despite the enormous challenges they face, somehow the resilient hives manage to pull together all of their resources and work together to overcome the obstacles before them. The question before me now is, "If honeybees are so self sufficient, what can I do as a beekeeper to help them succeed?"
I will never claim that I know how to manage a honeybee hive better than a honeybee can. But considering that these bees arrived from California, I do need to help them adapt to life in Minnesota where the summers are short and the winters are long and cold. Very cold. Listed below are five things that I can do to help them along as they adjust to life in Minnesota. Every seven to 10 days, I don my stylish beesuit, fire up the smoker and inspect each of the hives making sure to assess these five things.
- Assure that the queen is healthy – there is only one queen in each hive and she is vital to the health of the hive. When the population of the hive grows to 30,000 or 50,000 bees, it’s impossible to actually find the queen when I look inside the hive. So all I need to do is find eggs in the comb. Yes, I do need to use bifocals to find them, but as long as I see eggs, I know the queen is active and healthy. If there are no eggs, then there are a number of different decisions I will need to make about what to do with that hive.
- Give them plenty of room – A busy queen lays thousands of eggs every day. Busy worker bees gather pollen and nectar. When the frames inside the hives fill up and they feel crowded, the queen will announce to the family “we’re moving!” and they will begin to consider swarming. I don’t want that to happen, so I need to be sure there is always plenty of room in the hive.
- Identify pests or diseases – the threats of disease, parasites, and pests are too numerous to discuss. But as soon as I see any problems, I need to act quickly to either help that hive heal or prevent it from infecting other hives in the apiary.
- Prepare them for winter – believe it or not, I have to start planning my winterizing strategy beginning in August, to determine which hives are the strongest candidates to make it through the long cold months ahead, and to assure that there is plenty of honey and pollen in their kitchen cupboards to last through the winter.
- Honey – of course, I keep track of how much luscious, Minnesota wildflower liquid gold they produce, and dream about how much I will be able to harvest when it is ripe.
While I am so grateful for the progress that my bees have made so far this year, especially considering the multitude of challenges they face, and delighted that it looks like I might even have a decent honey harvest this year. But most of all, I am grateful for the inspiration these little critters give to me– their teamwork, dedication to family, work ethic, perseverance, and productivity. If only we humans could be as motivated and devoted as the honeybees.
Debbie Morrison is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. She and her husband Jim own and operate Sapsucker Farms, where their certified organic crops include maple syrup, honey, apples, plums and vegetables. Debbie's last post for SGT was Heartbroken Yet Hopeful: One Beekeeper's Advice for Starting Your Own Colony. Follow Debbie on Twitter at@sapsuckerfarms