It takes a village to bee a beekeeper
By Thea Vierling, The Bee Lady
Beekeeping begins in January, when hibernating beekeepers slowly wake up and begin to look at the state of affairs in their apiary and ask themselves questions like: “How’s the garden? the soil? How can I get the neighbors to plant some of these seeds that are good for pollinators, especially the honeybees?
How’s my beekeeping equipment? What needs to be tossed, cleaned or changed?
Who did I loan that piece of equipment to and who borrowed my extra veil? And most importantly, do I have any remaining living hives or did any collapse (also called a dead out) during the winter months?”
Believe it or not, many hives are lost during the winter months due to starvation, queen loss, pesticides and disease. The loss over the past few years has been more than 50 percent per year. Fifty percent loss seems like a lot, but remember that the surviving hives do duplicate themselves during swarm season. That’s where we humans come in. We all need to start keeping an eye out for swarms, which should start happening in February.
But first things first. As beekeepers, we need to clean all of the equipment to prepare for the swarm season. Cleaning means pulling out the old frames, which are filled with old brown wax comb. This is where the queen laid her eggs and the larvae developed into adult bees. Some of this comb can be used another year, but most of it gets melted down for candles. It’s a lot of work, and as I was wondering how I could get it all done, my neighbor called and asked if I had anything for his 14-year-old son to do. Wow, an extra hand to help me out. Mason came over an hour later, mask on, and was terrific. With very little instruction, he completed the job while I did other things. Of course, the good part was that we talked a lot and he asked great questions about the bees. I was thrilled and hope he will come back to help me melt down the wax and possibly make some new frames. There are a lot of skills involved in beekeeping, ranging from hammering, sawing, scaping, and also torching old equipment with a propane torch.
The other task that was staring me in the face was spreading the seeds that were donated at Kunde Winery. I had to get those into the ground before the rain came. Another neighbor said her daughters were available to help me. It’s amazing how much more fun things are when we do them together. I have a lot of extra veils for just such occasions, so we went over to the open field in the park and threw out the seeds during their lunch hour away from online school. Wasn’t this a lot more fun than being in a Zoom class? Here we were zooming around the Kenwood park spreading seeds for the bees. The birds might like them too.
The population of honeybees in a hive peaks in August at around 60,000 bees per hive and then dwindles down to the bare necessities at around 1,000-2,000 honeybees in the winter. By December, the population is all female bees and hopefully one queen. The population then begins to increase exponentially from January to August. January is about getting ready for this intensity and February starts the swarm season. The first swarm last year was caught Feb. 17.
The swarm season really needs community involvement. If you see a swarm dangling off a branch, from your porch overhang, or around your old pickup truck, please call your local beekeepers. Remember that habitat loss for the honeybees has been devastating. With the fires these past years, the bees have fewer places to go. They need to find a home and we all need to help them. Calling a local beekeeper costs you nothing. We don’t charge a fee for this service and there is no doubt that we have saved hundreds of hives by placing them in a safe bee house. We answer your call right away and often bring an extra veil so you can help us catch them. It’s a magical experience that was created to keep the bee population increasing.
Local Kenwood beekeepers:
Jim: 707-481-3820 Thea: 707-483-0426 Erin: 925-216-1106 Susan: 925-408-4529 Alan: 707-478-8906