Beekeeping is such an interesting thing. Because, really, they don’t *need* us to do anything for them. We have provided them a home (which they could find on their own if they needed to), and nearby water (which, again, they could find if they needed to), and flowers and vegetables and things to pollinate (same comment as before), so when I hear people say “honeybees have been domesticated” – that is the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard. Dogs have been domesticated. They look to us for companionship and care. Honeybees? They’d probably be healthier without us messing with them.
That being said, honeybees are on the decline worldwide, and having them around for the benefit of not only our garden, but the local ecosystem at large, is the main reason we brought them aboard at the old homestead. And man have we learned A LOT about and from them.
We opened up the hives the last weekend in August, to do a quick check before Winter. This will be the last time we open up the hives until Springtime. We’re rocking this hands-off, treatment-free beekeeping style for lots of reasons, one being this magical thing called propolis. Propolis is a sticky medicinal goo that the bees make from tree sap that acts as a sealant inside the hive. The bees use it for all sorts of things inside the hive, but its big purpose is it completely seals up the inside of the hive, so it acts as insulation and pest repellent. So whenever a beekeeper goes to open up their hives, they are destroying the natural seals that the bees have made.
The best analogy I’ve found is this: Imagine you’re making candy inside your house 24/7, and once every couple of weeks some gigantic being rips the roof off of your house to check on you. After a few months of this, you’re probably going to have pest problems, plus you spend all your time fixing all the damage from the roof instead of being really efficient at making candy.
In my opinion, this is what “traditional” beekeepers are doing to their hives. So we’ve gone the other direction, we are only going to open them up twice a year – Spring & Fall. Because really, we felt awful after destroying their shit the other weekend. The day after we opened the hives, one hive was covered in flies on the outside, and the other was covered in ants. I felt terrible. Now they have to spend valuable time fixing all the damage we did. Now, bees are both resilient and tenacious, so it’s not like they give up, they just get to work. Just a couple of days after our invasion, I saw no more flies or ants, and things seemed mostly back to normal (from the outside).
Also, a quick rant about human-made beehives. These boxes are almost impossible to deal with when they are packed full of honey, thousands of bees, and you’re trying to carefully stack them back on top of each other without crushing anyone. Each box probably weighs 40 pounds when it’s full, so imagine trying to “gently” place and perfectly balance a 40 pound box of free-flying stinging insects on top of another box without crushing anybody. It’s ridiculous. There has got to be a better way after how-many-thousands-of-years have humans been keeping bees??
Anyway, all we do now is think about how to bee-keep better. (I could talk about this shit all day, by the way).
By the way, you can also tell when the bees are just mildly upset that you’re around by them flying straight into you. Like, you get a bee to the back of the head at like 20mph. They die when they sting you, so this is like their first “warning” for us to vacate the area, which we are happy to abide by. The day after we opened up the hives both of us got bee-head-butted as we walked through the garden… they hadn’t quite forgiven us yet. Can’t really blame them.
On the plus side – our hives seem very robust and healthy and they are getting ready for Winter like crazy. 4 months ago we put them into a completely empty box, and now they have fully-drawn honey comb and frames FULL of honey. Truly amazing.
We took just the tiniest bit for ourselves 🙂 We’ll harvest whatever is left over come Springtime. We’re more concerned with them having enough to survive Winter.
Then, of course, there’s unwind time for us too…