I’m on my third go-around of starting a package of bees and hoping that the resulting hive will survive the winter. Let me tell you, this year has been just another massive learning curve following a thoroughly different and unexpected trajectory.
Our package of bees did not start off strong. They started off weak and unproductive. They didn’t drink down the sugar syrup I had made for them as I had expected. In fact, it molded on them. (Ugh!) They drew out about three frames worth of comb, if I’m being generous, and the brood pattern was patchy at best. Then the little worker bees became disgruntled and started making queen cups. Some of them must have duked it out because my colony ended up without a queen.
Yep, quite the start to my third of year of beekeeping: maybe six weeks into my new colony of bees, my hive was queenless, with maybe three frames drawn out and a frame or so of bees. Crap.
I called a local apiary asking about queens, and she advised me it would likely be better to buy a nuc at this point if I wanted my hive to have a solid chance at storing enough honey and making enough bees to survive the winter. I’m very grateful for her advice, and she gave me the information of someone who was selling nucs. Both people were members (and in fact board members) of my local beekeeping organization, so I felt good about the advice and the people I’d be purchasing from.
When we drove out to buy our nuc, the man offered us a swarm he had for sale. We were quite enamored of it, so we loaded the hive into our station wagon and took it home. We combined our weak colony and this swarm by using a healthy dose of lemongrass and newspaper between the two brood boxes. The bees were disoriented by the scent, and by the time the bees started eating through the newspaper, the whole hive rather liked its new queen’s pheromones.
Since then, our hive has been strong and seems to be a thriving success. The brood pattern looks excellent, and they are stocking away nectar at a rate that I’ve tried to keep up with to prevent them from being honeybound. Our summer varroa-mite treatment is in the mail and en route, and after feeling the yet-another-colony-loss dread when our colony was queenless and weak, I am starting to feel some optimism about this hive. It looks good. I like working the bees and feeling a sense of pride instead of that dull foreboding. Better yet, I love working alongside my husband as we inspect frames of brood, honey, and pollen together. I finally know how to identify eggs in a frame after using black foundation for the comb (it’s a snap with black foundation) and have been able to now identify eggs on traditional foundation. Identifying eggs is essential because seeing an egg indicates the queen was alive and well and doing her egg-laying business within the last 24 hours. I’m darn proud of myself for this new ability!
So, I’d say that beekeeping this year is following its normal course of ups and downs, but I think we’re on the up and up.