It’s been a good year for our bees at 5R Farm. The hive that we started with in the spring of 2013 survived its first winter, and was bursting at the seems by spring 2014. I decided to split the hive in April (Hive Splitting Day) which is a commonly used method of increasing one’s number of bee hives. It’s also a method of managing the population of the bee hive, and if done correctly, preventing swarming which occurs when a hive is overcrowded. In my case I think I did the hive split a couple of weeks too late since it swarmed anyway (Swarm Season).
I’ve been keeping a close eye on both hives all summer to make sure that the hives were healthy and had a strong population capable of putting away enough honey to get them through the winter. The hive that I took the split from and then swarmed went through a noticeable decrease in its population, which had me worried for several weeks. Thankfully, the queen seems to be a good queen, and the hive population rebounded nicely. Even so, I noticed during a hive inspection in August that the hive did not have as much honey as it did at the same time last year. The amount of honey that a hive needs to get through the winter varies according to the climate, and at least 50 pounds of honey is the recommendation for our location. That may sound like a lot, but if you consider that there are thousands and thousands of bees overwintering in the hive and depending upon the honey they’ve stored as their main food source from October through March or April, then it seems entirely reasonable. This is why I leave the majority of the honey in the hive over the winter, and I only harvested a couple of pounds of honey this summer. The bees need honey for their winter survival, and if there is leftover honey in the hive come springtime, I can harvest it then. Since the hive did not have as much honey as it did last winter, I started feeding the hive a 2:1 simple syrup in August, which would allow the bees to put away additional honey for winter.
I was doing my last hive inspection of the year a couple of weeks ago and evaluating how much honey they had in the hive, when suddenly I saw the queen! I had named her Queen Rosalind when we installed the hive a year and a half ago, but I had not seen her since. I knew she was in there and was doing her job since I could see that she was laying eggs in a good pattern and that new bees were developing, and so I had not really looked for her because I like to be as unobtrusive as possible when I inspect the hive. I was going about the inspection when suddenly there she was, Queen Rosalind in all her glory. In one of my beekeeping books it says “as you inspect your frames, it is a great moment when you find the queen. Suddenly, you feel like a real beekeeper.” And it’s true, it was an exciting moment!
The second hive that we started this year built up a large population and was able to put away quite a lot of honey. I have not named this hive yet, and I’ve just been calling it the split hive, but with the excitement of seeing the queen in the other hive I decided that I really do need to name this hive too. It’s just so much more fun to be able to call a hive by its queen’s name instead of Hive 1, Hive 2, etc. I probably could have harvested some honey from this hive, but since I am still learning how much honey a hive needs to get through the winter I decided to leave all of their honey in the hive. Winter is a tough time for bees, with hive losses becoming increasingly common, so I want to give my bees the best chance of survival possible. If both of our hives make it through this winter, I will feel like I’m doing something right. I would like to start a third hive next spring, either through another hive split, or I’d also like to put out a bee bait box and try to catch a swarm. I already have the location for the new hive picked out, so now I get to spend the winter thinking up queen bee names.