Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bees: I didn't think I would...

I didn't think I would post anything this winter about bees. I figured that they were done for the season. That said, I figured I should provide a small update. So, here it is:

We have had a few warmish (unseasonably warm, but still cool) days. Even though it has only gotten to 50 or so a few times in the past couple weeks, the bees still came out. Granted, there aren't hundreds or thousands of bees coming and going in the hive, but there were a few clinging to the front of the hive and a few dead bees which were carried out by the mortician bees. Thankfully, that means they are still alive, at least for now. That has been my biggest concern.

Keeping bees the first year is all about establishment of the hive. Keeping bees the second year is about production. The reason you usually don't get honey the first year is because the bees have to draw out all the honeycomb AND store enough honey to make it through the winter. I was lucky that they did that plus gave me a quart and a half of honey.

So, as I said, the second year is about production. An overwintered colony has enough bees to provide Spring flower (apples, berries, etc.) pollination. It also has large enough numbers with established comb so it can fill it quickly the hive (and then some) with the spring nectar flow. Now, my concern is one based on percentages. Every beekeeping guide, class, experienced beekeeper, etc., will tell you to start keeping bees with two hives. There is a lot of great wisdom in this. With two hives, you have something to compare to see relative progress. With two hives, you can manage a queenless situation by transferring a frame of eggs. Basically, two hives gives you a better ability to manage the resources of each individual hive. That said, I really didn't want to start with two hives. If I found that I really didn't enjoy it, got discouraged, lost interest, etc., I would now have two hives that I bought and paid for.

Now, assuming you don't encounter a major issue like American Foul Brood, one colony should make it through the active beekeeping season without any insurmountable problems. The big potential loss point is Winter. Depending on management, weather, hive condition and luck, Winter hive losses are between 30 and 50 %. With two colonies in a worst case scenario, you should theoretically still have one hive left after the Winter. That would allow you to make a split and restore to two hives, giving the new split a major leg up with all the established comb. With only one hive, in a best case scenario I have a 1 in 3 chance of having no bees come Spring. If my bees die, I could just get another package, but the problem is I won't know if they are dead until late February/early March. Generally, packages sell out by the middle/end of January. So I have to either take a risk of having no bees or take a risk of having extra bees. Given the options, I decided to order a package. If my bees die, I will have a new package ready for the hive. If my bees live, I will set up a second hive. In a worst case scenario, I could offer them for sale for a small profit. Seems like a win-win situation to me.