I am a beekeeper. Not to be confused with a honey producer. A beekeeper is more like a shepherd: keeping watch and offering a decent place to hang out. A less invasive approach is what I have in mind when keeping bees. They know what they are doing and really don’t need me interfering. I also prefer to use an organic and natural method–no chemicals and no stripping the hive of all the honey (feeding the bees corn syrup as winter food is not part of my regimen.) Honey is an essential food for the bees; they make it, they deserve it, and, most importantly, they need it.
My beekeeping intention is not all sweet. I am certainly interested in honey. I also like keeping bees for pollination of the vegetables and fruits we grow on the farm.
Each winter I have to decide if my apiary (bee grounds) should grow and how many hives I’d like to keep. I usually keep 3 to 6 hives (colonies) and over winter a few are lost to the elements or other unknown factors. Normally, I’d buy more bees in the spring to replace the losses, but I was getting frustrated with both the loss each year and the replacement cost. So, this spring I wasn’t going to purchase additional bees, but had intentions of splitting the few hives that survived the winter. My plan was to create tough colonies that could survive and withstand the harsh and unpredictable Wisconsin winters and parasite pressure, thus creating strong Wisconsin-grown bees. The purchased packaged bees come from California. I wanted to stop this annual cycle. Unfortunately, the 4 hives that went into winter did not survive. Not a one. That put me into a frenzied rush in early April to call the bee supply company and order 3 packages — crossing my fingers the entire time, hoping they weren’t sold out.
Each package comes with 1 queen and about 10,000 bees.
I almost didn’t make the call. Initially, when I realized that the 4 hives didn’t make it, I thought I should perhaps take a beekeeping break. I even discussed it over with Joe and decided not to get more bees. Besides, the cost per package is about $75 and getting 3 packages adds up to a lot of dough. The decision was made, I wasn’t getting more bees.
That lasted, oh, about a day before I started to feel pretty unhappy about not having bees on the farm. Watching them, working with them, enjoying the honey– I love these things. The only question remaining was: Should I spend $225 on more bees that might not make it through to next year? That was when the justifying began: I started thinking about the money I spend on clothes in a year: not more than $50. My makeup bill in a year? $0. And visits to the beauty salon usually run me in the zero dollar range. Hey, I thought, some women spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on clothes, make-up, and visits to the salon. I just want a few bees. This line of thinking worked. And I am glad.
After that, the frenzied call to the bee company was made.
They weren’t sold out. The bees arrived on Saturday and I spent a good portion of the day cleaning out the old hives. By early afternoon the hives were ready for their new occupants. (It’s been a dreadfully dreary April, with lots of rain, wind, and unseasonably cold weather. Last Saturday was one of the few sunny days—a good omen for the bees and their keeper, I’d say!)
Besides being a beekeeper I am also an “eternal optimist” (so called by a past boyfriend). I know most of these bees will make it through to next year. The apiary’s history proves it. Then next spring I will split the resilient colonies and grow the apiary into strong Wisconsin-surviving bees. Go, bees, go!