Friday, February 12, 2010

Bee planning

My co-beekeeper B and I got together the end of January to do inventory and make plans for the coming bee year.

Plan 1: we both wanted to add a third hive. I can’t speak for B, but my primary motivation is to decrease the odds we will have a repeat of the winter of 2008-09, when both of our hives died. During any winter there is always a chance that any particular beehive will not make it due to a combination of factors including the health of the hive, how well they were managed, attack by pests/disease, how much honey they were able to store, weather and abnormal weather events, etc. Not all of these factors can be affected by the beekeeper. Adding a third hive is all about playing the odds that at least one of our hives makes it through the winter; if you have a healthy hive you can split it to create two hives, but if you have no bees you have to buy them.

I suppose that brings up the question of why we’re buying bees this year instead of splitting a current hive. Part of it is that splitting a hive will reduce honey production, since the remaining bees need to spend more time raising replacement bees and less time producing excess honey. The more important reason is that the package bees we got last year were a little on the aggressive side (we’re buying a replacement queen for B’s hive, which was the worst offender.) We’re assuming this was an aberration and we’ll get better-behaved bees by buying a new package this year.

Plan 2: as we discussed ordering additional boxes to accommodate our new bees, he mentioned wanting to go to all screened bottom boards this year. Winters here are wet and warm, and it seems that the added ventilation is good for the bees. It may also help with mites, but we aren’t sure if that’s really a problem for our bees now or not. We were going to do a comparison last year, with my hive sporting a lovely homemade screened bottom board, and his hive with a regular bottom board, but then my package turned into a soap opera and a fair comparison was impossible.

Plan 3: we’re also going to do some research on designs for hive stands, since the current “up on blocks in the side yard” approach doesn’t work very well with screen bottoms. Once we’ve got a design, B will fire up his welding equipment and get things made.

Looking ahead to harvest, I’m wondering if it’s worth getting a mold to make small blocks of beeswax for the craft bazaar. Now that I’ve figured out how to clean the wax, I’d like to be able to make something useful (or at least financially rewarding) out of it, and I don’t know many people who actually burn candles. I’d also like to come up with venues for selling honey that don’t require me to be at a farmer’s market all Saturday.