Honeybees are vital to our food system, so we’re embarking on year two of keeping a beehive in the field next to the C|O Hartland office.

Bees are all over the news. A record number of hives died last year. The White House announced a new plan to help save honeybees last week, and all the while TED talkers have been presenting observations and opinions on the complex web of modern society’s impact on honeybees.

It seems everyone is jumping on the bee bandwagon.

On Tuesday our new package of three pounds of bees finally arrived. Unfortunately, they came in a few weeks late – it’s already late May! Last year, we had an experienced beekeeper install our bees since we were novices. She said this is the easiest part of beekeeping. We were skeptical, but she’s right. Mostly.

With a year of beekeeping under our belts we thought we were experienced enough to install our new bees ourselves and, as promised, it was very easy. Except for one thing … our queen bee up and flew away!

A healthy bee colony can make their own queen, but as a brand new colony with no eggs to turn into a new queen our other bees would have no way to survive. We were panicked. Will she return? Do we wait? Will the rest of the bees stay here while we go get another queen? As with everything in our beekeeping adventure, this was new territory for us.

We returned to the bee store for a new queen bee. As it turns out they keep lots of extras in stock – in special little queen bee cages—because as the bee store proprietor told us, losing the queen “Happens all the time.”

What we learned last year:

  • What not to do (just kidding! Kind of…)
  • How to spot the queen bee
  • How to tell the difference between the queen and a drone (aka boy bee) since both are larger than worker bees (all female)
  • How to check the hive and what to look for (brood/eggs, pollen, honey, queen cells)
  • Bees dance!
  • Mites are a problem for all  bee hives and you need to test and control for them regularly
  • Experienced beekeepers do such things as measure out a cup of bees. Just scoop them up without the bees flying away. We have not yet mastered this skill.
  • Ants and mice like honey while spiders and other predators really like bees. The hive is always under attack. Help your hive fend off predators so they can focus on honey production.
  • Start preparing for winter in early August
  • Don’t check on the hive too early in the morning. Bees act like teenagers if you’re entering their space uninvited! They are more likely to be awake and friendly at noon than at 8 a.m.
  • In spring and fall, despite seeing flowers everywhere, bees might still need supplemental food
  • Don’t get discouraged if your bees don’t survive—it can happen to anyone

Plans for this year:

  • Not make as many mistakes as last year