Beekeeping comes but once a year

It is time for the much-anticipated annual post on my plans for the coming year. I did one for 2016, so this will be my second such post.

There is a difference between knowing something and experiencing something, perhaps theory versus practice. Agriculture, including livestock, is seasonal. There is a time for planting, a time to feed the cows hay, a time to keep the horses in the barn overnight, and a time for all the other activities that happen around a farm. We know this.

Living the idea in my small way as a beekeeper has been an interesting endeavor. Preventing swarming, splitting hives, feeding. Much of the work is seasonal, and if you miss it you may have to wait a year. I don’t yet have a good sense for these activities. I have to think about the time of year and consciously plan my actions.

TBH

My freshly painted top bar hive ready for spring 2017.

Going into my third year with bees, here are some notes on new things to learn and mistakes to avoid in 2017.

  1. Expand my top bar hives. I have two different-sized TBH right now, one bought (Venus) and one built (Saturn). My father and I built a second hive as well last year, and I hope to split Saturn into this new hive.
  2. Harvest some honey. A combination of poor beekeeping and bad nectar flows has yielded very little honey from our hives. Hoping the third year is the charm.
  3. Make a nuc or two. I have a medium-sized nucleus hive, which I did not use in 2016. It is painted and ready to go, so hope to give this a try. If I am ambitious, I will build a small top bar hive nuc or two as well. Given my hectic life at the moment, or perhaps just a general lack of confidence, I’m not sure this will happen.
  4. Raise some queens. With all this splitting and nuc’ing, some new leadership will be required (not that queens really lead the hive, but that’s another post). I’m intrigued with the notion of raising queens in some formal way, as letting bees raise emergency queens leaves more to chance. After much reading, Randy Oliver’s method Queens for Pennies seems promising. I hope to talk with some more experienced beekeepers around here to get their advice on this one.
  5. Feel the seasons. On the beekeeping-is-agriculture theme, there are certain activities that must happen at the right time. In particular, hoping to be more aware of the following.
    • Swarm prevention. Rotate boxes in the spring and add a super early so the bees have room to grow.
    • Nectar flow. Last year I treated for mites in the spring, which didn’t turn out very well. Plan to avoid this in hopes that the bees take can full advantage of our early nectar flow.
    • Summer dearth. In this part of the world the bees have a couple hot months with little or no food sources. Last year I didn’t feed, which resulted in very light hives in the fall. This year I will.

Christmas comes but once a year

According to my Facts of File Proverbs book, this was first recorded by Thomas Tusser in “A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie” in 1557. This full text version on archive.org has the original reference:

At Christmas play and make good cheere,
for Christmas comes but once a yeere

As captured in the quote, the saying justifies extravagance around Christmas since it is a once-a-year event. According to Wikipedia, this is also a 1936 animated film and a song within the 1958 radio play Green Christmas. The play is an indictment of the commercialization of Christmas, and the song inspired a 2010 Mad Man episode.

For my purposes, the quote is fair game since we are still within The Twelve Days of Christmas, which ends January 5. It comes from a poem about husbandry, and some of the poem even provides advice on tending bees. With this background and my thoughts on the seasonality of beekeeping, the title seems appropriate.

May you prosper and find honey in the coming year.

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