November 1, 2014

On Becoming an Intermediate Beekeeper

by Jodi Moger

There wasn’t any one thing that led me to honey bees. In spring 2002, I bought the book Beeing: Life, Motherhood and 180,000 Bees by Rosanne Daryl Thomas. I had neither bees nor children, but I must have read the book a half-dozen or more times over the next few years, I found it so compelling. My kiddo arrived in 2004. Our family’s desire to be self-reliant began to intensify. It was apparent that my spouse had pretty much quelled his debilitating autumn allergies with daily doses of local honey. In 2008, I became a Master Gardener Volunteer. Then after some investigation, I decided to obtain honey bees for 2010.

I began by joining Cumberland County Beekeepers Association and MSBA in the summer of 2009. My mom and I completed Wolfe Neck Farm’s Beginner Bee School that winter. Erin Forbes taught a great series of five monthly classes (the text was The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro). We each ordered two overwintered nucs and 8-frame hive equipment. At about this time, I decided to make bees a kid-friendly endeavor for my then 5-year-old. She became a champ at hammering mediums together! I let her choose the dark but bright hive colors, and she helped stencil stars all over them. I purchased a green kid-sized veil from E.H. Thorne for her. She hived the nucs with me in May 2010. I’ll never forget when, about a year later, she asked if a friend’s queenless hive would be building a “superseater” cell.

Jodi Moger and daughter transfer a nucleus colony to their new home, May 2010.

Jodi Moger and daughter transfer a nucleus colony to their new home, May 2010.

That summer, one of my hives superseded twice early on and the other felt swarmy. I inspected most weeks, learning to leave them alone when there was a virgin queen marching around, or no nectar flow, or too hot and dry, or not quite sunny enough. Two years later, one of those hives still lets me know when it’s not sunny enough to pop the top. I managed a small honey harvest while leaving enough on the hives for winter, then treated with ApiLife Var.

The hive that superseded twice died on March 30, 2011. I had a terrible gut feeling about them that day; I just knew they were gone. They had been flying on-and-off up until the day before, then there was just stillness and sadness. The post mortem indicated that the cluster dwindled and they starved/froze. I found the queen and her retinue still intact.

Fall 2011 saw Jodi’s newly expanded apiary thriving and reaching toward the sky!

Fall 2011 saw Jodi’s newly expanded apiary thriving
and reaching toward the sky!

I bought another nuc from out-of-state in late May 2011. Turned out it was queenless when I hived it. By the time a replacement queen arrived from Georgia, the colony had already made a new queen. So I started a third hive with frames from the overwintered hive. (Thanks go to Keith and Jonathan for talking me through the process via the Cumberland County Beekeepers Association email.) The two new hives were very mellow and fairly strong, and the overwintered hive was prolific. I took about 20 pounds of light early honey and about 100 pounds of autumn honey. Again, I aimed to leave plenty of honey on the hives for winter. Three-day mite drops in August were very low compared with the previous year. This time, I treated with Apiguard. The hives went into winter fairly heavy and with large populations, but I was leery because two queens (one was hiding) stopped laying in November. As of the end of March 2012, all three are flying well and I’ve already seen eggs/capped brood in two of the three hives that I‘ve peeked in on. All three are taking candy despite each one having the extra box of honey. I experimented with all mediums on one hive, a single deep with mediums on the second, and two deeps with mediums on the third. Right now, I’m leaning toward an all-medium setup.

Last year, I unofficially mentored two new beekeepers. They approached me about working with them and answering questions from time to time. It was a great experience. There was a swarm, a dead hive, lots of queen cells, and a split. I am thrilled to report that to date, their bees have made it through the winter!

I toyed with attending the intermediate bee school offered through Cumberland County Cooperative Extension after my first season. Ultimately, I decided to spend the winter reading-up on bees instead. The Dummies and the Idiot’s Guides, Richard Bonney, Kim Flottum, etc., websites such as Bush Farms, blogs such as Honey Bee Suite and Linda’s Bees all broadened my education. I combed the MaineCat online library system for all kinds of bee books, read the magazines and joined YCBA. Facebook is also a great place to find blogs and articles while meeting beekeepers all over the world.

Jodi and her daughter with their newly hived nuc, May 2010.

Jodi and her daughter with their newly hived nuc, May 2010.

When Intermediate Bee School 2012 was offered, I felt ready and excited to have classroom time with a local master beekeeper whose views and sensibilities I appreciate. The classes contained a fair amount of review, but Erin Forbes kept it lively while ensuring that we understood her before moving from one idea to another. The material covered filled-in some gaps in my existing knowledge and added new concepts. Memorable topics included confidence and the use of gloves (timely after I’d just read this blog post, honeybeesuite. com/beekeeper-gloves), backyard queen rearing, nucs/splits, Northern-raised bees, strategies, diseases, finding a mentor/ being a mentor, and thinking on one’s feet. In hindsight, I wish I had put together more questions to ask in class. The two texts for the class were Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Dewey Caron and Hive Management by Richard E. Bonney. The Caron book had merit, and I’d already read and enjoyed the Bonney book. The class appeared to be a mix of beginning second- and thirdyear beekeepers, with a few others who have been keeping longer. In total, the group had about 80 hives. Interestingly, students came from serious distances to attend. I seem to recall someone from the Boothbay area and one or two others from even farther away. An informal poll at the end of the session put winter losses as a group well under 30%. It was an enjoyable six weeks of classes. I would love attend an intermediate II and/or advanced beekeeping class(es).

I want to do the best I can for the bees. Classes like this and summer open hive events are a big boost for my personal style of learning. This year my plans now include more splits, a newly purchased nuc setup, and I’m even contemplating a queen castle. I also think I’d like to learn to catch swarms.

Sometimes I wonder if life would be easier without the challenge and the commitment to these amazing creatures. Mother Nature has her own ideas; I feel an intense sense of responsibility, while being respectful of her rules. The ups and downs are numerous. I spend a lot of time in my head thinking (and worrying) about them. I feel fortunate to be able to give them the time and energy that I do. Watching a bee being born or performing a waggle dance, catching a glimpse of blue or red pollen being delivered, or just tasting my girls’ honey are all pretty magical, and I never tire of it.

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