Update from the Hives: Our Year in Beekeeping at Loutet Farm

Although we’ve had honeybee hives at Loutet Farm since 2013, last year was my and Leslie’s first year managing the hives.  A huge shout out to Lianne and Trevor from Two Bees Apiary for their mentorship and resources during our freshman year –  we couldn’t have done it without you two!

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I can’t speak for Leslie, but as a new beekeeper, these cold winter months have me feeling restless!  This winter has been especially cold, but even in milder conditions, November to March are pretty much no-go months for entering a beehive.  To do so would introduce so much cold air, we’d put our hives at risk as they burned through energy and resources attempting to reheat.

We love our Loutet bees, so as much as we’d like to visit them, we’ll wait until temperatures are back up to the double digits.  In the meantime, I’m revisiting photos and notes on our 2016 beekeeping season.

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As many of our market customers already know, we didn’t harvest any honey from the hives last year.  A look back on our year in beekeeping will explain why – and why we are excited for the new year!

JANUARY:

FEBRUARY

  • We cleaned and sterilized all of our equipment using group rates provided through the RBA. img_2033
  • We discovered our West hive did not survive the winter!
  • We transferred remaining resources (honey, pollen) from the West hive to East hive, which seemed to be doing well.

MARCH

  • Our first real hive check revealed the East hive was doing well.  When we check the hive, we are looking for changes or signs of any trouble.  We also check for the presence of eggs and brood (bee larvae).  If we see eggs, they must have been laid by the queen within the past few days.  Eggs = Queen, even if you don’t see the queen herself (which is often rare).

APRIL

  • We checked the East hive a few times this month.  The bees were producing loads of honey, and the queen was taking care of laying eggs.  Hive population was increasing.
  • Weather was unseasonably warm and sunny this year!

MAY

  • Loutet Farm hosted an Introduction to Beekeeping course with Lianne from Two Bees Apiary.  Lianne checked in on the East hive and did not see much brood… we began to worry about our queen.
  • Lianne and Trevor caught a swarm of bees at Queen Mary Community Garden.  The bees
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    Trevor holding up part of our Queen Mary swarm!

    split from Ric & Sharon’s hives and they generously let us keep the swarm.  Gotta love that North Shore beekeeping community!  The bees took up residence in our vacant West hive.

  • Learn more about gentle swarming bees here.  This is a natural process that happens in the Spring as hive populations outgrow their space.  If you see a swarm of bees, contact a local beekeeper to assist in a live removal.  Save the bees!

JUNE

  • The swarm we introduced into the West hive was doing awesome.  Plenty of eggs and brood and very calm bees!
  • We weren’t sure the East hive still had a queen in there – we still weren’t seeing eggs or brood.  So when Lianne and Trevor caught another swarm and we made the decision to integrate the swarm with the now weak East hive.
  • We integrated the weak East bees and the new swarm by placing newspaper between them.
    Sarah and Julia hosting their workshop

    Sarah and Julia hosting their workshop

    As the bees chewed through the newspaper, they became accustomed to each other slowly.  Learn more about the newspaper method here.

  • Rainy weather meant bees were not out collecting nectar – even though blackberries were
    blooming and it was prime honey making time!
  • Loutet Farm hosted Honey Beekeeping 201: Integrated Pest Management with Julia and Sarah from Hives for Humanity on a very rainy day!

JULY

  • Both the West and East hive were doing very well population-wise.  We observed eggs and brood, and even spotted the queens from time to time.
  • Rainy weather continued and bees were not out collecting nectar.  We noticed honey
    Each orange cell contains a new baby bee!

    Each orange cell contains a new baby bee!

    resources dropping lower and lower.

  • We made the tough decision NOT to harvest any honey, preferring to leave what honey was there for the bees.

AUGUST

  • We were too darn busy farming to visit the bees during August!

SEPTEMBER

  • We started feeding the bees in hopes of building up their resources and population to survive the winter.
  • During this time, we added 1:1 sugar syrup every few days, keeping an eye out for eggs, brood and any issues in the hives.

OCTOBER

  • We completed our final hive checks and were please to find both hives in amazing condition.
    Winter food stores

    Winter food stores

    They were well stocked with honey, pollen and brood.

  • We prepped the hives for winter by adding a layer of sawdust to wick moisture and insulate and by building a temporary roof to keep the rain and snow off.

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

  • We couldn’t visit the bees during these cold months, but we did visit the bee yard.  By placing our ears on the sides of the hives, we could hear the cluster of bees inside humming away – hopefully cozy and well stocked for the months to follow!
  • In response to the exceptionally cold temperatures predicted for December and January, we insulated the hives with emergency blankets and black tarps.

We had a slow start to the year, with lots of uncooperative weather, but we went into the winter with two very strong hives and lots of resources.  Sometimes making a tough decision to forgo the honey harvest pays off – we can’t wait to visit the bees in March and see how they are doing.  

We hope these rock star hives produce lots of honey, inspire curiosity and educational opportunities, pollinate our crops and engage our community in the 2017 season!

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