Feb 15 – Intro to Beekeeping at the Grange
I just learned that the owner of Beekind here in Sebastopol will be teaching an introduction to beekeeping on Saturday, February 15th from 9am until noon at the Sebastopol Grange on Highway 12. The class is free and you can RSVP at (707) 824-2905.
We attended the bee seminar on Saturday, and are definitely planning to add bees to our repertoire of animals this spring. One question we have is whether it is better for newbies to start with the package bees or the nucleus colonies. We are leaning toward the package bees since we can see the whole process of hive building from the beginning, but it seems the downside is the likelihood that there won't be enough surplus honey in the first year for our own use. Also, suggestions on how many hives to order — I am thinking three, but maybe two is better.
It was a great introduction, and wonderful to see the quality of knowledge and experience in our area.
First read and digest Michael Bush' books
A few weeks back, I paid for two locally raised bee packages and all the gear to support two hives. To be picked up later in the spring. I then ran into two friends, one who has been keeping bees for over 30 years and another newbie in her second year. They both lost all their bees this winter. The veteran beekeeper suggested I wait as this might be a challenging year for a newbie given the drought and lack of consistent forage. My gut confirmed that, so I cancelled and got my money back except for the nonrefundable deposit (which I was totally happy to pay). This is not to say beekeeping isn't a noble thing to do, and I plan on doing it in the future. But I plan to apprentice with my friend and observe his hives and study up on it in my spare time. I am going to put the $1000 I would have spent on bees towards a rainwater harvesting tank instead, another project that has been waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, I notice my blooming rosemary and camellias are very busy with honey bees, so someone in the neighborhood has hives, the winery next door I suspect. For now I am just going to try to keep my nectar plants going all summer so I can support and attract bees for pollination.
Based on my experience, I don't have a strong preference, but I'd still lean towards the packages. You'll learn more and develop an understanding of how colonies grow & develop that you'll leverage in future years.
For what it's worth, I've still managed to have first-year harvests (more than a gallon each time) with the hives I've started.
As for the number of hives, there are pros/cons, but the work for 3 is not much more than for 2. And I definitely recommend getting 2 over just 1.
Since it can take 2-3 years to get a hive up to full strength, I'm partial to starting with more. You can always find someone who'd love your excess hive if you later decide you were too ambitious.
FYI: all my hives made it through the winter, though one is looking weaker than I'd like (which is why you don't want just one; too much can go wrong and turn your first year into a complete bust). The other two are thriving – in fact, one is so active I'm afraid it could swarm in the spring.
Despite the dry winter, the bees are crazy busy and pollen collection is not a problem at all (returning bees have their pollen baskets loaded to the brim). I'm already getting strong whiffs of honey when walking near the hives. Once the apple orchards start blooming in a month or so, things are going to get insane…