Here’s now I inadvertently (or I could say deliberately) managed to get over 6 pounds of honey from a single medium frame. 6 pounds is about 3 kg. (I’ve created a special tag just for this hive, Giant Hive 2021, so everything I’ve written about it can be viewed in sequence.)
Other than giving the bees space inside the hive to grow, I really didn’t do much. This is 95% the result of good weather and a healthy queen. No bee whispering of any kind was required. There never is.
Essentially, all I did was place 7 frames of drawn comb in a 10-frame honey super, creating extra space between the frames. If there’s a strong nectar flow, the bees will often fill in the extra space with honey, resulting in thick frames of honey — and sometimes more honey per super.
1 of 5 thick frames of honey, averaging 5.2 pounds / 2.4 kg of liquid honey per frame. (July 7th, 2021.)
There’s a ton of reading material out there, both online and in print, but The Beekeeper’s Handbook may be the most comprehensive and affordable single-volume guide to beekeeping I’ve ever read, so that might be something worth reading, just to get the ball rolling.
(Note: As with most popular beekeeping books, the price of this book is likely the go way up. I managed to get it for $30, but now it sells at almost double that amount. Beekeeping for Dummies usually sells at an affordable price, though. I don’t have it, but I’ve heard from a number of beekeepers who recommend it.) Continue reading →
It’s a myth that beekeeping doesn’t take much time. If you work from home or you’re retired, then beekeeping may not seem to take up much time. But for everyone else with day jobs that have them driving to the office every morning, not getting home until five or six in the evening or later, then walking the dog and putting supper on the table (and maybe dealing with children), beekeeping takes up a lot of time. And that’s just doing the beekeeping. Learning about it is a whole other ball game.
For the first two years of my beekeeping, for every hour I spent working with my bees, I spent at least five hours reading and taking notes or watching instructional beekeeping videos of some kind. I was also happy to do it. I was glad to spend as much time as possible with my bees, maybe too much time.
I’m not talking about obsession, though beekeeping absolutely taps into obsessive behaviour and doesn’t exactly bring out the best in everyone. But that’s another story. I’m talking about the minimal foundational work that’s required to become a good beekeeper before bees of any kind ever come into the picture.
Someone recently asked me for some information on how to start beekeeping in Newfoundland. Among another things, I sent them a link to my Guide to Beekeeping page, essentially my personal guide to beekeeping in Newfoundland, and they said, “I don’t have time to read all that.” To which I say, “Then you probably don’t have time for beekeeping.”
The information, the videos, the photos, everything I wrote up in my causal beekeeping guide doesn’t even close to being a comprehensive introduction to beekeeping. It’s meant to get prospective beekeepers warmed up and to point them in the right direction. No time to read all that? That page is simply a place to start learning about beekeeping. There is so much more to learn, it’s not funny.
Honey bees eating a sugar brick. (Feb. 14, 2016.)
It takes time to learn about the bees and it takes time to learn from them. Even now I don’t just casually walk past my beehives once in awhile so I can admire them from a distance. I don’t treat them like ornamental objects for people to look at and say, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful.” Those hives are full of bees. I pay attention to them and I’m glad to do it. I’m constantly learning from them.
I’ve met too many new beekeepers or wannabe beekeepers in the past few years who don’t seem to get this. Beekeeping takes time. Good beekeeping takes even more time.
It may not take up as much time for people who eventually develop an experiential grasp of what they’re doing, but my guess is it takes about three years before anyone even begins to know what they’re doing, especially in a place like Newfoundland where most beekeepers will have to go it alone most the time. (2021 Update: Make that 10 years. Three years? What was I thinking?) By the end of my second year, I felt like I knew everything about beekeeping. But by the end of my third year, I realised I didn’t know squat. After my third year of beekeeping — after dealing with a colony of mean bees (which instantly takes the shine off beekeeping); after catching two swarms; after losing a colony to starvation; after getting stung in the face more than once; after dealing with mice inside a hive; after having to move my hives because my neighbours called the cops on me; after manipulating my colonies to prevent swarming — that’s when I began to learn about beekeeping. Everything up to that point was like kindergarten.
When I first got into beekeeping, I was just some guy who happened to buy some bees and put them in his backyard. Having the money and the resources to have a bunch of bees, whether four hives or forty, wouldn’t have made me a beekeeper, just like buying a camera doesn’t make me a photographer, or owning a stethoscope doesn’t make me a doctor. But after two years of dedicating most of my time to learning about honey bees and beekeeping, and then surviving my third year of hell, I began to feel like, yeah, okay, maybe I can do this. Maybe I am a beekeeper. Not by any means the wise and wizened beekeeper that everybody idealises like Santa Claus, but I’m in the club. Maybe? (But I wasn’t.)
When I look back on that experience and how much time I put in to getting to where I got, and then I see people who think they can just check on their bees whenever they feel like it, who are attracted to beekeeping because they think it doesn’t take much time — good luck to them.
I don’t know it all and I know I’m a middle-of-the-road beekeeper at best. But I know enough to realise that beekeeping takes time, more time than most people think.
I would like to burst the bubble of the totally unrealistic ideal of beekeeping that attracts most people to beekeeping, just to save them the disappointment of a lousy beekeeping experience that ends with all their bees dying on them. But that totally unrealistic vision of beekeeping is what got me into beekeeping. So I don’t really want to burst anyone’s bubble. All I can say is use that bubble wisely if you can, keeping in mind that there is a different reality beyond the Zen-filled dreamland where honey bees never sting. Beekeeping is sweaty and dirty work most of the time and requires a lot of thought and effort and attention to detail to do it right. Beekeeping can be immensely rewarding, but it takes more time (and money) than most people initially realise.
April 2019 Introduction: I’ve rewritten and updated this post since it was originally written in 2013. You can read it or just skip the whole thing and browse through Rusty Burlew’s bookshelf instead.
I was asked by someone in Newfoundland about what books they could read before they get into beekeeping as a hobby. I don’t think you need to read any books. Seriously. If you know how use the internet, you don’t need to buy any of the standard overpriced beekeeping books that are popular these days. Save yourself some money and turn on your computer instead.
There’s a boatload of beekeeping videos on YouTube. Videos posted by the National Honey Show are world class beekeeping presentations from some of the biggest heavy hitters in the beekeeping world. They probably go a bit too deep for absolute beginners, but it probably doesn’t hurt to have them on the radar. The University of Guelph produces more beginner-friendly videos from its beeyards that are also well worth checking out. Ian Steppler’s beekeeping videos out of Manitoba are exactly the kind of videos I would post if I was a commercial beekeeper. I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the resources to keep bees on that level, but if I ever thought about hitting the big time, I’d be all over his videos. Even as a backyard beekeeper, I’ve learned quite a lot from him. A simple search on Twitter (and other social media apps) for beekeeping also reveals all kinds of fascinating information about beekeeping.
The internet is an invaluable tool for new beekeepers, especially in a place like Newfoundland where there aren’t many beekeepers and where it’s not easy to meet up with other beekeepers. All of my beekeeping mentors are beekeepers I’ve gotten to know online (none from Newfoundland, sorry to say). Most of what I’ve learned about beekeeping, outside of my direct experience with the bees, I’ve learned online. Beekeeping associations, beekeeping workshops, beekeeping books — none of them are necessary for anyone with a connection to the internet who pays attention to their bees. But let’s get back to the question: What books are useful for new beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland (or for people keeping bees in a similar cold climate)? Continue reading →