My Beekeeping Story
Being a beekeeper isn’t easy, especially when you are first starting out. My beekeeping journey began in April 2013 when our first two packages of bees arrived. At the time, my husband was going to be the primary beekeeper. I was just going to help if needed. We purchased two packages so we could compare the hives, and thus would be able to tell if one was doing poorly. Unfortunately, they both did equally poorly, but we were too new to know that they were doing poorly. Like many first-time beekeepers, our hives died out over the winter. However, by that time I was hooked and wanted a more active role in the bees, so we chalked it up to a learning experience and began making plans for next time.
In the spring of 2014, a large swarm moved into one of our now empty hives. These bees did so much better than either of the original hives. As winter approached, we were feeling hopeful about the prospects of our little girls. In early February 2015, the bees were busily gathering pollen during one of our warm spells and I breathed a sigh of relief. Our girls had made it through the winter!
Two weeks later, Kentucky experienced record snowfalls and low temperatures. Beekeepers in Kentucky lost an average of 42% of their hives that winter according to the Bee Informed Partnership. When you only have one hive, there isn’t a 42% option – you either have 0% hive loss or 100% hive loss. Our hive fell into the second category. I was disappointed to have lost another hive and to have to start over again. However, I also knew many experienced beekeepers who suffered major losses due to that storm so I tried not to get too discouraged.
In the spring of 2015, we caught another swarm. The new swarm did even better than the swarm we caught the year before, including surviving the winter. It was also around this time that I became the primary beekeeper in the family. Since 2015, I have been slowly growing the number of hives in my apiary. I currently maintain between 5 and 10 hives depending on the year and season. It’s been a slow journey, but I have learned so much and am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in my beekeeping career.
Throughout this journey, I’ve been active in my state and local beekeeping associations. I truly believe that my beekeeping career would have been very short if it wasn’t for the help of the beekeeping friends who I met by attending various bee club meetings. If you are interested in beekeeping and have questions, please feel free to contact me. I enjoy sharing my knowledge about honey bees and beekeeping with others.
I keep my bees in both top bar hives and Langstroth hives. Top bar hives are long hives and aren’t as common as the traditional, tall Langstroth hives. One of the advantages of top bar hives is that you don’t have to lift entire boxes of bees or honey. Another advantage of top bar hives is that you don’t open up as much of the hive at a time as you do with the Langstroth hives, so the bees tend to stay calmer. I love my top bars and find them very relaxing to work, but they are harder to manage.
Langstroth hives are the tall hives that everyone is more used to seeing. The Langstroth hives are easier to manage and it is easier to find people who can help you with them when you have a problem. The longer that I am a beekeeper, the more the Langstroth hives are becoming the workhorses of my apiary.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have any honey for sale?
Yes. On July 4, 2019, I did my first large honey harvest. Up until then, I had been concentrating on increasing my hive numbers rather than producing honey. Although I am now producing honey for sale, my harvests are still relatively small and I only have a limited amount for sale. If you are interested in my honey, please let me know.
What is a swarm?
In the spring and early summer, honey bees will often swarm. A swarm is the hive’s way of reproducing itself. The bees will raise a new queen while the old queen and approximately half to three quarters of the bees in the hive will fly off to establish a new hive. These swarms will often land on tree branches, fence posts, and other objects. The swarm will stay there in a tight cluster while scout bees look for a new home. Once a new home is found and agreed upon, the swarm will leave for the new location. For more information about swarms, check out this blog post I wrote about them.
What should I do if I find a swarm?
If you are in the Barren/Warren/Edmonson/Allen county areas of Kentucky and have a swarm on your property that you would like removed, please call me at (270) 202-7677. If I don’t answer, please leave a message and I will call you back. If I can’t collect the swarm, then I can help find another local beekeeper who is available. If you are outside of this area, call your local Extension Office. They typically have a list of local beekeepers who are willing to collect swarms for free.
How do I become a beekeeper?
Beekeeping today is much harder than it was 50 years ago, primarily due to new pests and diseases. The single most important thing I can tell anyone who is interested in becoming a beekeeper is to learn as much as you can before you get your bees. Begin attending your local bee club meetings and get to know other beekeepers in the area long before you ever get bees. Many local bee clubs will offer bee schools throughout the year – go to as many of those as you can. Don’t hesitate to spend 6 months to a year actively learning about honey bees and beekeeping in your area before you order your first bees. People often don’t like that answer, but spending time learning about honey bees and beekeeping will help you be a better beekeeper. If you have more questions or want to learn more, please feel free to contact me.
Are there things I can do to help the bees without becoming a beekeeper?
Absolutely! First it is important to realize that there are many different types of bees. There are approximately 4,000 species of bees native to the U.S. In Kentucky, that number is in the 100s. All of these bees play important roles as pollinators and members of our ecosystem; however, they don’t receive the same amount of attention as the introduced honey bee. Some things that you can do to help all types of bees are:
- Plant a wide variety of flowering plants including trees, shrubs, and forbs (what we typically call flowers), but make sure they are the types of flowers that the bees can use because there are many flowers that bees don’t use.
- Whenever possible, choose native plants. Not only will you be helping the bees but you will also be helping butterflies, songbirds, and other backyard wildlife.
- Plant blocks of the same species.
- Try to have at least 3 different things blooming at all times throughout the growing season.
- Leave the dandelions, clover, and other flowering “yard weeds” alone.
- Only mow your yard once every 2-3 weeks so the “yard weeds” have a chance to bloom.
- Limit your use of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. If you decide to use them always read and follow the directions on the label.
What is the best thing to plant for honey bees?
That’s like asking what the best food is for humans. If we only ate one food, we wouldn’t be very healthy. I don’t care how nutritional or “good for you” that food is. We need a varied diet and so do honey bees.