About a year ago I decided that would be the year that I started keeping bees. I have not had a good time of it and I am going into the new year with only one hive out of the three that I started with. I harvested no honey. I spent hundreds of dollars and I am in the position where I must spend more to continue.
I had no beekeeping contacts or anyone nearby with whom I could discuss beekeeping. There are no clubs in this area. I met a local beekeeper, but he seemed skeptical that I was of the right stuff to be a beekeeper, and although I may have misjudged him, he seemed reluctant to get involved with my project. I later met someone local who has been keeping bees for a while, but she seemed to be as hit or miss about things as I was.
I read as much as I could, and I watched dozens of YouTube videos and then plunged in.
Mistake #1. I signed up for a bee package from Betterbee. This is not a bad idea, but Betterbee is about three hours drive, one way. They scheduled the bee pickup for a Saturday, which worked for me because I cannot take a day off from work. They then delayed it two weeks and the pickup was scheduled for a Thursday. I could take off an hour or two from work, but I could not take a day off to get the bees so I had to cancel (I lost my deposit). Betterbee was late in getting the bees, and then I had to search for an alternative, which made things later still.
Betterbee caused me to lose a month of good bee weather. I started late and the bees suffered. This year I will join with a bunch of local beekeepers I’ve heard about, and get packages from a truck that comes up from Georgia making local stops, or else I’ll get some nucs from my Rhode Island contact if he makes a Georgia run this year.
Mistake #2. I did not buy enough woodware. I bought a “complete” package including hive, frames, bee hat, smoker and an instructional CD. I thought the single hive body was all I needed to get started. I fed my bees in the beginning and they prospered and multiplied quickly. The bees swarmed several times in May and early June. I ordered new deep hive bodies and supers from Brushy Mountain, but they took almost a month to get them to me, because of the May rush. In the meantime, I had lost time.
The bees should have been building out comb and filling up supers with honey instead they were swarming out into the wild where they surely died eventually. By the time I got the wood and put it on the hives they were done making comb and they never moved up into the supers. Only one hive made any progress (at the expense of the other hives).
Mistake #3. I put the hives too far from the house, where they could not be seen. My wife did not want bees anywhere near the house and would not let me put them where they could be seen from the windows. I put them in the back, where they could be seen by neighborhood juvenile delinquents. Kids knocked over two of the hives and one was exposed for almost a whole day before I got home from work. I fixed the hive as best I could and moved it 100 feet closer to the house, but the bees kept returning to the old location and many died.
I will reposition any new hives closer to the house and I have a camera that I will hook up to the internet to keep an eye on them.
Mistake #4. I was not careful when I added new deep boxes to one of the hives and I think I killed the queen. I added a new deep to a hive that was just one hive body and a super. This was in late June when Brushy Mountain finally sent me the three deep supers that I ordered. I found the medium supers on eBay and ordered five which arrived quickly in May, but the frames did not arrive for three weeks. I wanted to keep the medium super on top and move the deep underneath it. I lifted the medium and set it next to the hive and put the deep on, and then put the super on top. I came back and I found a clump of bees on the ground next to the hive, and I realized that I had knocked the queen out of the super and not returned her to the hive. As carefully as I could I scooped up the clump of bees with a piece of cardboard and shook it back into the hive, but I guess the queen was gone or dead by then. The hive was dead, but I didn’t know it until a couple of months later when the last of the bees died. They did not make a new queen.
Mistake #5. I did not harvest any honey. My bees did not do well, but each hive filled up at least one medium super with honey. All summer and through the Fall there was more rain than sun and the bees did poorly. I did not want to take their honey. They did not fill out their deeps with comb and, although I fed them, they did not put too much honey away. Only the first batch of medium supers that I put on in May were full of honey.
I should have taken that honey. The bees, if they were going to survive, needed much more honey than the one super. I could have sold the honey, used it as gifts, and had some proof that I had actually accomplished anything. As it was, alien bees came in the fall and cleaned out the dead hive and the weak hive, robbing all the honey. My beekeeping neighbor, about a half a mile away, must have had a good year at the expense of my hives. Next year I am taking the honey in June and to sell it at $5 a bear from the driveway. This will at least help pay for any new packages that I will have to buy in 2011.
Summary. I made lots of stupid mistakes. This was mostly because I did not know anyone who was willing to give advice to me. All the books that I read assumed a certain level of previous knowledge that I did not have. I will make similar stupid mistakes again this year, but I hope to have a better luck this time.