People have asked me why we decided to get started in honey bees. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure either of us really know why. We were just interested in them and it gave us a foot in with diversifying our farm, but not needing additional land or a large amount of capital to do so.
We got this idea in our head last year to raise honey bees. My family had honey bees for a long time, so it was something I was semi-familiar with, but had never really taken an interest in. Mark decided that this was something we should try, and I supported that idea.
We attended a hobby bee keepers class and Mark went up to the U of M for a bee keeping course. We talked to other people with bees. We purchased a few books as well to read and for different recipes and items made using honey, wax and the comb. We tried to gather as much information as we could before we started.
We decided to start small our first year, and then work on expanding after that. We purchased 2 hives from a company called Mann Lake Limited out of Hackensack, Minnesota.We purchased a starter kit that included some of the main things we would need such as the bee keeping suit, smoker, hives, bee brush, etc. We then ordered an additional hive and frames. When we picked up our bees, we also purchased an additional queen extruder and pollen patties. A queen extruder will keep the queen in the hive so she doesn’t leave and cause your bees to leave with her. Pollen patties are essentially a nutrition supplement until flowers and trees bud out for the bees to collect pollen.
We went with two hives our first year to ease into this new livestock, learn as much as we can and understand the ins and outs of raising bees before we expand. As you can see in the photos, we placed our hives on a piece of land that is very grassy. Most of the land is in CRP, and now some of it will be in RIM, where we will work to plant a bee friendly vegetation mix. Hopefully, we can get some clover in there for them. Also, you may notice the stream in the background of the photo. Bees need a water source just like cattle, hogs or horses, so we placed them by this stream so they would always be able to find enough water to drink.
We picked our bees up in Hackensack, Minnesota which is approximately a 5 hour drive from our home. So we had a long day with 10 hours of driving. 5 of those hours included bees humming in my backseat! Yes, our bees rode home with us, in our vehicle. The bees come packaged in a “bee cage” that they can’t get out of, and has a feeder can for them as well. They do make a pretty loud hum, that you could hear the entire ride. That being said, I figured if we got in an accident I’d either die from the car accident or bee stings with 30,000-40,000 some bees in my back seat!
Throughout the ride, we sprayed the bees down with a sugar and water mixture. This sugar syrup is something we have to continue feeding them for the first month or so to help boost the colony’s health and strength. We mix a 5 gallon bucket up, using about 10 lbs of sugar every time to make a thick sugary syrup. This gets poured into a trough area of their hives for them to feed on.
As soon as we got out to where our hives were, Mark suited up in an effort to not to get stung and no worries, he hasn’t been stung yet!
Next came the task of getting the bees in the hives. The queen has to go in first (she comes packaged in her own special casing within the bee cage), and you want to ensure she flies down into the hive and doesn’t leave the hive. We plug the front portion of the hive with some grass until we could make sure she was in there and wasn’t’ leaving. After you place the queen in, next comes the shaking of the bees from the bee cage into the hive. Not all of them will go in, some will fly around before they figure out to go into the hive, and others will stay in the cage for a while so you leave the cage by the hive hoping they will fly out. Yes, some do die and refuse to join the hive.
We now check our bees about once a week to make sure they have enough food, pollen patties and that the hives haven’t been disturbed. Hives have to deal with predators ranging from bears (thankfully we don’t have them down here), raccoons, skunks, and more. Lots of critters like the honey comb besides just humans!
A few interesting pieces of information for you:
- We won’t get honey our first year more than likely. You give up your first crop of honey in an effort to winter your colony over and ensure they have enough food. Depending, we might have enough honey, or we might not. Next year, provided our bees make it, we will end up with both a spring and fall flow of honey.
- You do have to medicate your bees. Bees are medicated during the fall before winter to help them survive against mites. Mites are the number one killer of bee colonies. You medicate your bees much like you treat a dog for fleas. You also can get a beetle outside of the hives that can be detrimental. You treat the outside of the hive/ground for this, not the inside.
Do you have any questions for me about our bee adventure? I’d love to hear them!