Close up look at honeybees from one of my hives.
A couple weeks ago I reached out to my bee mentor – we’ll call him “J” because he is shy – to arrange the first inspection of the honeybee colonies in my back field. Every new beekeeper should have a mentor. This is a person who is an experienced beekeeper and can go through your hives with you and answer questions on the spot as well as later on by email or phone.
Bee school (yes, there truly is such a thing – University of Maine Cooperative Extension offers options during the winter), books, and watching You Tube videos (specifically those featuring Erin Forbes - think Yoda of beekeepers) will give you a great foundation – but the best way to learn about bees – and thus beekeeping – is by doing. Some mentors charge for their time, but it has been my experience that a bottle of Kentucky moonshine (no joke folks) or a couple cartons of freshly laid eggs can get you a discount or even free visit. I probably do an inspection with “J” three times a year – early spring, early summer, and fall. In between I’ll poke my head in a couple times to check on things. If you want a mentor, your best bet might be the Maine State Beekeepers Association.
I have three eight-frame hives and with any luck I’ll have four by early summer. This is my third year keeping bees and let me tell you it is a humbling experience. The more I learn the more I realize I do not know. Watching bees work is extraordinary. Losing a hive is really sad experience. My friend Eric made me a bench so I could sit and watch the bees come and go from their hives. It is way better than watching reality television, or so I am assuming. Besides watching the bees, it is a lot of fun to paint the hives (mine are orange, blue, yellow, and white) and becoming a beek (bee geek). When I run into a fellow beekeeper, of which there are many in Maine, we beek out.
“J” and I inspected the colonies today, but really we could have waited a week or even two. The timing varies every year depending on how the winter is – more winter, do it later. We wanted to make sure the bees have enough food (honey) and make sure they are okay.
“J” packing the smoker (essential beekeeper tool) and smoking the hives (few puffs into the entrances to keep the bees calm).
Here’s what we found:
The queen is already laying. There is a small, but healthy cluster near the top.Bees start at the bottom and make their way to the top of the hive during the winter. I will need to feed in a couple weeks to take them through to late May.
A candy board from one of the hives.
Otherwise known as the “miracle hive” – so donned by the state’s apiarist Tony Jadczak after the colony survived a mite attack winter before last. “J” called them gorgeous. They are! This colony is super healthy with a cluster through two boxes (think nearly two-foot long football).
Looking into the “miracle hive” – gorgeous.
The new gals. They arrived from Georgia last spring. The colony is in a small cluster in the top box, but the queen (she lays all the eggs in the colony) is really strong. I was able to see brood (bee babies) at different stages (this is going to sound gross, but really it’s an extraordinary site – they look like teeny tiny maggots curled up in a cell. I will also need to feed this colony in the next couple weeks.
Capped honey and honeybees on a frame.
What I learned, or next steps. I will need to feed two of the hives. I might need to split the second hive into two in late May, so I am talking to Phil Gaven, owner of The Honey Exchange, about getting another hive around that time. The next hive inspection should happen sometime before Memorial Day Weekend, when the dandelions will hopefully be in bloom and daytime temperatures in the 60s maybe 70s. That is when I will remove the winter protection (they are wrapped in roofing paper for insulation) and entrance reducers from the strong colonies.
End of a homasote board (absorbs moisture). No need to replace, the bees will clean up this spring.