bee keeping, bees, homestead fail, homesteading

Homestead failure is not always what it seems

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There is one unavoidable fact on the homestead.  You are going to fail.  Failure is not something we think about much or even plan for, but it still happens.  Three years ago we started beekeeping.  We knew that winters were hard here so we built our hives out of 2×4 pine in an effort to give the bees more insulation for the winter.  We also used a peaked roof with an airspace just like the attic of our house.

It seemed that our hive idea had worked.  For several years our bees survived the winter.  We built our bee yard up to 3 hives. In the winter we would lose one hive, but the others flourished.  Every summer, we were able to split our surviving hives to make up for our winter losses.  We even were able to harvest some honey.

IMG_7548This past summer was very wet here in upstate New York.  Our bees never really seemed to thrive.  We checked for mites and disease, but came to the conclusion that it was just all of the rain.  The rainy summer was followed by very cold weather in late January with temperatures reaching  -18 degrees Fahrenheit.  We worried about our bees.

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Every snow storm we would head out and clean the entrances of the hives.  We waited patiently for the first warm winter day to see if there would be any activity.  We wanted to look inside, but that would make little difference.  Finally, we had a few sunny days in the upper 40’s.  Our past experience was that on a day like that, with abundant sunshine, we would see our beloved bees. Sadly, we did not see any bees making cleansing flights.  We also did not see any bees doing hive maintenance.  Sometimes if you see dead bees on the landing board you will know they are still alive and working inside the hive.  We finally made the difficult decision to look inside the hives because if our bees were gone, we would need to plan accordingly and place an order for new bees early. What we found was very sad.  If you have worked with bees you know how hard they can be to keep alive.  Lots of hard work goes into it, and to see our bees lifeless was very hard.

The last few workers had tried to keep the queen alive until the very end.  We were discouraged.  We had lost hives before but never all of them.  The thought of not being able to see our bees flying out of the hive on the first warm days of spring was very disheartening. After we regrouped and began to look inside the hive, we realized that it was not a total loss.  The bees had left us a present even in their death.  Honey!!! And lots of honey.  As we pulled out frame after frame of delicious dark fall honey our pain was eased a bit.  Our hard work was not a total loss.  Maybe there would even bee enough to sell so we could use the money to offset the cost of buying new bees.  Often we lose money on our homesteading adventures, so the thought of breaking even made us happy.  We began to crush and strain the comb. and what we wound up with was amazing.

Jar after jar of liquid gold.  Currently we have strained 4 gallons and we are still going.  We are also saving the frames.  We can put them out when our new bees arrive so they can get a jump start.  We would much rather see our bees eating clean honey instead of sugar water.

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It is so easy to get discouraged in this way of life.  So often you just want to throw in the towel and live like the rest of the world, but even a day of taking apart dead hives is better than a day of “binge watching” in my book. And sometimes if you keep pressing ahead, you are still rewarded, even in failure.  So the next time you are experiencing homestead despair, remember the bees.

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13 thoughts on “Homestead failure is not always what it seems”

  1. That is the darkest raw honey I’ve ever seen! Beautiful! Sorry for your bee loss. I have my first hive ready to go. I’ve moved swarms over the years from places at work to the woods, but this year I am going to relocate a swarm to the hive and see what happens….may ask for some advice later….

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  2. I wonder how the bees in the wild fared? Will those living in the hollow of an old tree fare any better? They must, since we had temperatures below minus 20 degrees in the past. Wild honey bees are stressed but I saw more of them last summer than I have seen in years. Similar with Monach butterflies. I saw many of them last year. Quite an exciting change . Maybe the cold weather will kill back the wooley adelgid on hemlocks and delay the spread of the emerald ash borer!

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  3. I’m finding that overwintering in smaller hive setups is working much better for me in PA. Only 4 of my 20 are in two boxes, the rest are in one. One is even in a “fiber pot” swarm trap. We had that -22° stretch here too. So far, all are alive with no treatments at all ever. Something to try maybe. I like that you use the small cell frames too. I use them in the brood area only.

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