July 2018: The Return of My Hives (Kinda)

April 2020 Introduction: This is an 18-minute video recorded on my cell phone (the quality isn’t always the greatest) in July 2018, the same month most of my hives that were in the care of another beekeeper were returned to me. But I’ve decided not to post videos about those returned hives because, man oh man, they were sad shape, and I’m just not in the mood to revisit any of it. I’ll continue to post these behind the scenes videos that consist mostly of me talking about beekeeping things and doing some boring hive inspections, etc., which I know doesn’t interest most people, but I like these videos because they show better than well-edited videos what it’s really like to keep a small number of beehives on a budget. I’m all about dispelling the idealised myth of beekeeping. Most people romanticise beekeeping to the point where they can’t help but feel, “Isn’t beekeeping a dream?” Maybe it is, and maybe that’s the problem.

    The dream is over.

John Lennon

    We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

— Joseph Campbell

April 2020 Postsript: Why I Am The Greatest Beekeeper in The World

I was in a car accident in November 2016 that left me with a disabling concussion injury and made it difficult, if not impossible, to take care of my bees at a time when I had about eight hives on the go. In April 2017, I subsequently left all but one of my hives to the care of another beekeeper until I was able to take on regular beekeeping activities again.

I was more than ready to receive the bees by the spring of 2018, but the beekeeper who had my bees was unable to deliver the hives until late in the summer. When the hives finally arrived on July 22nd, I expected to receive fully established colonies that would provide a little honey for me, and maybe I could steal some brood from them to prop up the one colony that was still at my house.

But all the colonies I received were so weak, most of the hives didn’t have enough bees to fill even a single deep. I can take a pretty good guess at why the colonies were in such sad shape, but that doesn’t make any difference. I was just grateful to have my bees back. Nevertheless, after everything I’d been through, I was also pretty damn close to calling it quits. It was discouraging to say the least.

With such pitiful resources to work with and not much money in the bank to purchase a fleet of nucs to rebuild my beeyard (it was too late in the year to acquire nucs anyway), I was kind of screwed. All my plans for building up my beeyard were based on having 6 or 7 strong colonies to work from. Instead, I got about 5 single-deep colonies with hardly any capped brood. I wanted to burn the place down. I almost did.

I would spend what little time was left in the summer of 2018 trying to build up the colonies, but it wasn’t easy. By pulling out every trick in the book, I was able to perform a miracle and build up two of my returned colonies to such good condition that, by the following summer of 2019, they grew into probably two of the strongest colonies I’ve ever had. Those queens were on fire.

But for the rest of the colonies that were returned to me, well, I would have been better off combining the 5 single deeps into two full-sized colonies instead of trying to nurse along a bunch of piddly colonies that would never grow into strong colonies. I am so damn sick of dealing with weak colonies, I never ever want to do it again. I have no time for it.

While I believe my colonies were in good hands while I was off sick with my concussion, I’ve decided never to give my bees over to the care of anyone else again. Not because I don’t think others are capable, but when you get right down to it, no one will take care of your bees as well as you, because no one has put as much into them as you have. This is not meant as a reflection on the person who took care of my bees (they did me a massive favour and I will be forever grateful), but I’d rather dump on extra supers and leave my bees alone than give them over to anyone again. I’ve had to leave my bees in the care or other people in the past (though only for about a week), and I’ve never been happy with it. I know now that it’s just something I can’t do.

I eventually had to buy three nucs and three mated queens from the Newfoundland Bee Company in the summer of 2019 to give my beeyard the boost it needed. And even then it was a hell of a struggle — not just for me, but for many beekeepers on the island. We had a lousy winter and many of the nucs that were produced for 2019 were not robust. The bees wouldn’t build comb. The nucs were slow to expand. Add to the fact that most of the colonies I got back in 2018 never grew into strong colonies that I could steal brood from to boost up weaker colonies — I was dealing with a series of negatives and no positives. It wasn’t much fun.

It’s April 2020 as I write this and I currently have seven hives next to my house and three at another location that I haven’t been able to check on for the past month. I think the seven colonies living next to my house are in good shape. I did what I could to build up all my colonies last summer, but when you don’t have many strong colonies to steal resources from, the only saving grace is good weather — and that just didn’t happen for me last summer. So I’ve got seven colonies (currently still half-buried in snow) that I hope are in good shape, and three more that are probably still holding on without any help from me (I hope). That’s where I am today.

But back in July 2018 when I finally got to see all my bees again for the first time in over a year, the situation was pretty damn dismal. And I’ve decided not to post all the videos that document the profoundly aggravating situation I was left to deal with at that time. I was already rebuilding my beeyard after shrews killed most of my colonies in the winter 2016, and now this? [Insert expletives of your choice, more than one.]

I’m a half-decent beekeeper. But I’m not wealthy, I’m not retired, I don’t have easy access to acres of land, I don’t have anyone to help me with my beekeeping, and I don’t work from home where I can easily check on my bees whenever I feel like it. Any one of those conditions puts the average backyard beekeeper way ahead of the game. Any two of those conditions and you have no right to complain about anything, ever. You have it so easy, I want to punch you. So when I say I’m a half-decent beekeeper, what I really mean — given the circumstances under which I’ve kept bees and brought them back to life — is that I’m a miracle worker.

    JULES: What happened here was a miracle and I want you to ****ing acknowledge it.

    VINCE: All right, it was a miracle. Can we go now?

Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

I deserve a medal for what I’ve managed to do with my beekeeping. I could teach a Master Class is how to bring honey bees back from the brink on a budget. But I won’t because I pretty much loathed every minute of it. That being said, I’m grateful.

    Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
    Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

William Shakespeare

Close enough. Shakes is talking about being grateful there, right? Or maybe I’ve been reading that wrong my whole life. Probably.

I assumed as I worked through the old cell phone videos I made while I was out of the beekeeping world for two years following my concussion injury that I would eventually get around to The Big Day when all my bees came back and I was back in the saddle again. But now that I look at that footage, I realise once was enough. I don’t need to relive it all. Even though it was a learning experience, and I really do deserve a medal for bringing my bees back to life like I did with next-to-no resources and no one to help me, I don’t want to look at it again. I’m going to stick with to telling the tale of the one hive I kept for myself while all my other bees were away. I may drop in on some of the other colonies if taking a look at them reveals something interesting, but as it is now, I’m not too interested to posting any of that stuff. I’m moving on.

One thought on “July 2018: The Return of My Hives (Kinda)

  1. Good job recognizing potential swarm mode, good use of the empty winter quilt!
    I think I’ll experiment with a foundationless frame this year. Yet , I usually have a hard time to get them to draw comb. As an other experiment this year, I’ve added extra wax to new foundation, hoping to encourage quicker comb drawing.

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