Second Year Panic

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Second year panic?

So you bumbled through your first year fairly successfully and now you have reached the end of your second year of keeping bees.
The second year of bee-keeping is often the worst. In the first year you have usually started with a nuc or a swarm in a brand new hive. The frames are all clean and straight. The comb is white with a yellow tinge and although the amount of bees in your hive looks a lot, it is manageable. The queen is likely to be new and well behaved. You spend hours watching the bees just going in and out sat on a chair a few feet from the hive and this bee-keeping lark doesn’t seem too bad at all.
Over your first winter you worry a bit about food reserves but you are looking forward to year two.
And then it arrives. As the year progresses things go from bad to worse. Your frames are all sticky with propolis and difficult to get out. You didn’t quite push them together properly and some were fatter than they should have been. When you did manage to get them out the comb has lost its pristine look and some of it was turning black. There were bits nibbled out round the edges and lines of missing comb where the frame wires were. There were holes in the middle of the frame where queens and queen cells could lurk. As soon as you took the crown board off the bees seemed to want you to put it back on. If you had more than one box on top of each other, as you tried to remove the top box you lifted out some of the frames of the box underneath which the bees have cunningly stuck together. You only realised this when you went to put the box down. You stood there holding the box wondering what to do just as the bottom frame detached itself onto the grass, bees were everywhere. You thought you had lots of bees last year but this year there seemed to be millions of them. The frames were so tightly packed that you rolled the bees up the frame as you tried to take the first frame out. The sun was beating down and you were hot and bothered. The bees covered the frames so you couldn’t see the cells and they started pinging off your veil as you tried to move them. Your dog got stung and your partner who is wary of your new found hobby got bees stuck in their hair. The garden became a ‘no go’ zone. Then the queen cells started arriving. You panicked and started cutting them out. You got the books out and started looking up swarm control. You realised you needed to buy loads more kit and find room to store it. Then you forget to do up your veil and the bees got inside your suit. Several stings to the face. You realised that stings hurt and swell and go red and itch for days after the swelling has gone down. You panicked because you thought you might have an allergy. The first year wasn’t like this at all. You haven’t even had a decent amount of honey yet. You can’t cope with this. Maybe this isn’t the hobby for you. Then you finally heard yourself saying to other bee-keepers “I haven’t been into my bees for a few weeks, I’m a great believer in letting them do their own thing!”
If some, or all of the above sound familiar then before you sell off a your kit …. wait ….. take a deep breath and try and calm down. Over the next few months I will try and help you understand why some of these things happened and how we can prevent them and encourage you to enjoy your hobby again. I merely want you to know that although most experienced bee-keepers may have either forgotten this stage in their hobby/career or are not willing to admit it happened, to a lesser or greater extent it probably did happen to them too. It certainly happened to me and I can remember each minute vividly.
I have been keeping bees for some forty odd years now and enjoy every second but it hasn’t always been like that. If I explain how I started it may help you to realise why those first two years were not the easiest.
In the early 1980’s, before the age of the internet, my wife and I decided we should try a new hobby each. For some reason I suggested that I wouldn’t mind keeping a few honey bees in the garden. I had no experience of bees and no knowledge at all of their life cycle or what bee-keeping entailed.
We looked up a local hive supplier in the Yellow Pages and I bought a flat pack hive and a hat with a veil that had two elastic straps that went under the armpits.
I successfully made the hive and frames and put it in the garden.
My attempts at installing bees in the hives were to try and collect them off flowers and push them in the entrance in the hope they might breed! Yes! Honestly!
As you can guess, this failed and my beehive became an ornament in my hallway. By chance I was saved by a stranger (Geoff) who called at my house for an unrelated matter, saw the hive, explained that he kept bees and would I like some help. We agreed to meet in a field nearby where Geoff had his bees on a crop of field beans and he would show me what the inside of a real beehive looked like. I turned up in a boiler suit, a pair of yellow marigold gloves and my pristine veil. Geoff turned away as I walked up, presumably to wipe the tears of amusement from his eyes but he was patient and after making me take off my gloves he had me handling a frame or two. Then I got stung, at which point Geoff said “You can put your gloves back on now” Fifteen minutes later he said “Well you’re not dead so you obviously don’t react too badly to stings!”
Within a week he had brought me my first swarm and my bee-keeping hobby started from there.
I had cause to call on Geoff on many occasions and he showed me how to handle bees and extract honey. I am looking forward to passing on a few tips to those of you that are struggling. All I ask is that you persevere into your third year and don’t give up yet.
Oh! and as a warning, and my first tip, if you haven’t done so already, try not to sneeze when you are wearing your veil. It isn’t a pretty sight!
Eric Martin

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