Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beginning Beekeeping

Honeybees visiting snow crocus in March. 

For a while, I've been interested in trying beekeeping. Recently, various factors including moving to a house in a fairly rural area and my girlfriend's sister getting some hives, have provided an impetus towards actually starting a hobby apiary. So, I took the Eastern Connecticut Beekeeper's Association bee school this winter, and ordered the basic equipment.

Here's the unassembled hive, which arrived back in February and took weeks of on-and-off labor to put together and prepare. A Langstroth hive is more complex than you might imagine from looking at one from the outside, and there is a lot of internal structure. It's sort of like building a very large, very repetitive model kit.   

 The smoker test was successful. A little smoke makes bees easier to work with: they respond by loading up on honey, which makes them docile and unlikely to sting (possibly in an ancient adaptation to forest fire danger). Smoke also disrupts alarm pheromone responses.

My girlfriend bought a package of bees from a local beekeeper back in early April; here they are ready to install in the completed hive. These are ordinary Italian bees from a breeder in the South somewhere. We got two additional packages of fancy northern-adapted bees from Sam Comfort in New York just a couple of weeks ago. It will interesting to compare their comb-building, honey production, temperament and overwintering ability, though three hives is probably not a great basis for judging.  

The bees, 10 days after installing in the hive, with the covers off.

20 days after installation, the bees are drawing new comb well. I'm experimenting with using foundationless frames (without the usual wax or plastic base to guide comb building). While it is interesting to see what the bees do naturally in the absence of all but very minimal comb guides, I'm getting the impression that it might have been easier to start with foundation. During inspections, there's usually a fair amount of work to do squishing combs back into place and cutting out bits spanning the frames. 

26 days after installation, the queen is laying eggs, brood is being raised, and the first new workers are hatching out. The bees are currently, seven weeks after installation, building up their population fairly well and may be ready for a second hive body later this month. With luck, I may get some goldenrod/aster honey in August or September.


Julie said...

What a wonderful hobby, Matt!!! Very fun! Best of luck with it!!!

Matt said...

It's been interesting, and they're doing well so far!