2019 was a wild ride for beekeeping for us! We had some major highs (I caught a swarm!) and major lows (lost a few hives to pests) and everything in between. With 5 hives to manage in 2019 it was a much different cadence than our first year of beekeeping with just 2 hives to look after. I learned so much from succeeding and failing, and trying new things with my hives, I have so much new knowledge to roll into the next year!
Most Memorable 2019 Beekeeping Moment
On May 18, 2019 I caught a swarm of bees! It was the first time I had ever seen a real swarm, and as an amateur beekeeper I really wanted to take it on. You can read the full post about the swarm experience here, but long story short I put aside my fears, attempted to catch the swarm using a ladder and a cardboard box, and totally succeeded! That brought us up to 5 hives, which was a totally fun and unexpected way to start the beekeeping summer.
How Did The Swarm Do Throughout the Year?
Needless to say, with so many bees in the hive we had to quickly add the second hive box and honey supers for them as the summer went on. Our swarm, or Hive Five as we called it, was very happy and healthy and actually produced some honey for us that we harvested in September… which is pretty impressive for a first-year hive!
Then the wasps attacked. Wasps infiltrated and robbed Hive Five – we took precautionary measures (homemade wasp traps, wasp gates at the entrance) but by the time we reacted to the wasps it was already too late. I was absolutely devastated… not only to lose a hive, but to lose the swarm that I caught myself and was so proud of. As the wasps attacked I would stand outside the hive with a rubber mallet and try to hit any wasp I saw coming in and out… needless to say, that didn’t stop the attack but I like to think it helped.
The silver lining?
I think most of the bees from Hive Five actually joined one of other other colonies, Hive 1! Throughout 2019 Hive 1 was doing ok (we over-wintered them) but by the end of the fall the hive was more populated than ever. I like to think that after the wasp attack they merged with another weak colony to form a super hive. And Hive 1 is still going strong in 2020!
Aside from losing Hive Five to wasps, we also lost Hive 2 to wax moths during August. To be honest, this was completely due to lack of attention on my part- my dad, who was visiting us in August got very sick and was in the hospital for 2 weeks during August, where my husband and I spent every second we could with him. I definitely wasn’t giving my hives the attention they needed, and some wax moths got ahold of Hive 2. By the time the end of August came around, Hive 2 was gone – they had swarmed. This was super sad as it was a result of my hive neglect for a few weeks, and I feel like it could have been prevented.
The Lesson Here?
Hive. Check. Frequently! Even just a 2 minute visual inspection outside the hives helps… its something I’ve started doing now, and has helped already. I’m much more vigilant and attentive to the hives’ problems, and am keeping an eye our for pests or robbers getting in or coming out!
The Many Honey Harvests of 2019!
One bonus of having 5 hives is that we were able to harvest honey a few times throughout the year, which was very neat! We had out first harvest on the summer solstice on June 21st, I wrote up a whole post about it here. The honey was super light in color and so different-tasting from our rich dark honey of Fall 2018! It was so incredible to see the difference in color and taste the difference in the flavor: the June honey was light, sweet, and floral, and the darker fall honey was rich, medicinal, and almost spicy! So neat to think that all this honey comes from the same location on our homestead.
Our second harvest was in late August – when my dad had gotten out of the hospital. He recovered with us for a few weeks, and we wanted to show him what a honey harvest really looks like. I had him put on an extra bee hood, and we actually got to do a little father/daughter beekeeping (see picture above!) which was really cool! We only harvested a few frames to demonstrate the process, but I’m really happy we were able to do that.
The Big October Harvest
At the end of 2019 we ended up having 3 healthy and productive hives to harvest honey from- and we got a really good amount of honey – a few gallons!
We gave some out to friends and family, and jarred up the rest to sell later in the year. I was really happy with how much honey we got, but as always we made sure to give the bees more than enough to survive the winter. Harvesting honey is fun, but as a beekeeper my #1 priority is the health and safety of my bees, so I’m always ensuring they they have plenty of honey to winter with.
Winterizing & Treatments
I did a beekeeping demo at my local beekeeping store, and followed their notes to a T! We wrapped the hives in insulation again because it gets COLD in New England in the winters. We put on the mouseguards, treated for mites, and I made sure to put protein patties on all the hives.
One new thing I tried this year was a different mite treatment. The first year we used Formic Pro (formic acid strips ) which seemed to do great – I had 2 happy healthy mite-free hives when I opened in spring. This year, upon the recommendation of my beekeeping store, I tried Apivar mite treatment instead. I thought I would try something different and new… but learned that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Over the winter we lost 2 of our 3 remaining hives to mites. Even after they were treated with Apivar. Now, the mite infestation could have happened for a lot of reasons (we had an unseasonably warm winter in New England in 2019, didn’t kill all the mites), we had aerial spraying for mosquitoes at night due to the EEE virus that could have weakened the hives and made them more susceptible… but whatever the cause, I’m switching back to Formic Pro this year… since I had better results.
The Grand Finale: New Beeswax Products & Our Sale
Ending 2019 on a high note, my work put on a maker marketplace sale which employees can sell things they build, make, paint, craft, etc. We actually had enough honey to be able to sell quite a bit – so I packed up my extra jars, and some new products I was making out of beeswax.
I made beeswax lip balm which is a recipe my aunt gave me – and it is amazing! We are able to make tons and tons of it from our beeswax. I bought a lip balm kit online, and am able to make about 50 tubes in 30 minutes, which is really great. I tried 2 different containers this year: the classic plastic lip balm tubes and small metal tins. Honestly, I hate using plastic, but it turns out that the traditional lip balm tubes worked
I tried making a beeswax hand salve also for our sale, and it turned out great. I made tea tree and rosemary hand salves, and they were a huge hit! I even had co-workers placing extra orders afterwards because they loved it so much.
With our extra beeswax I wanted to try my hand at candlemaking. I’ve been experimenting with pure beeswax candles, and candles with a little extra essential oils for scent. I got a great pack of wooded-scent oils from Costco so I’ve been making candles in balsam, conifer, and cedar scents!
And the sale? It went amazingly! I sold out of honey, sold out of the rosemary hand salve, and sold a ton of lip balms. It was so fun to connect with my co-workers and be able to answer questions and talk about beekeeping with so many fun people. It was a really fun experience, and I would be happy to do it again! And I ended up making enough to cover our new hive expenses for the beginning of 2020- so a success indeed.
Overall, 2019 was a challenging, rewarding, tough, and educational year for us. I learned a lot about what to do better, what definitely NOT to do, and want I’d like to focus more on!