What I've learnt in my 1st 7 months

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Joined
Jun 14, 2023
Messages
296
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319
Location
Surrey, England
Hive Type
National
Number of Hives
14
When I write "7 months" it sounds like such a short period of time, it feels more like 2 years. In May, I caught my 1st swarm. In June I finished a 6 month theory and practical course with my local BKA.

I now have 7 colonies: 5 x 11 framers, and 2 nucs. I've successfully bred new queens, opened a new out apiary and pulled half a super of honey. My plan is to reach 10 strong colonies by 2025, as that is likely the limit of what I can manage with the time I have available.

The following are headlines of my learnings - the first 3 could be a single point, which I've split, for detail - any comments and feedback welcome.

What I've learnt (in order of importance)
  1. Practical is entirely different to theory: Knowledge is essential, so too is practical experience. Inspecting a strong colony can feel very intimidating; it takes time to build confidence. I'm still working on this.

  2. Learn when to leave the bees alone: When I think back, despite the excellent course I attended, I'm embarrassed by how naive I was in the first 2 months. I now think the art of beekeeping is as much about knowing when to leave the bees alone as it is knowing when to intervene. This is where I have made most progress and still have the most to learn.
    Go in with a plan: know why you are doing something to a colony, don't inspect for the sake of it. Have a plan of action, and good reason to do what you are doing.
    Bees are tougher than you think: don't pamper them - it pisses them off.

  3. Maintain strong colonies: My 2 weaker colonies take more management time. They are much more likely targeted by wasps and slower at reaching the required level of stores - I caused this by making mistakes early on, that overstretched them.Don't over-stretch bees: When doing splits ensure there are enough bees. Don't put a small colony in a big box. Check all bungs in your Abelo hive are present when placing the hive in an abandoned orchard that's covered in fallen fruit and plague levels of wasps.

  4. Money: Flippin' heck, I've spent a huge amount of money, way way more than I ever expected. This is one reason I need to stick to 10 strong colonies for a while, to try and claw back my expenditure.

  5. Time: What they don't teach you is 30 minutes of apiary time = 90 minutes of civilian time. Be aware!
What have others learnt in their first year of beekeeping?
 
I think you have done well to get to where you are.
My first season started with a small swarm in early June. A long wait for a VQ to start laying before she was kicked out. A bought mated Q from BMH successfully introduced to a NUC which had to be moved due to wasp attack.
A successful newspaper unite and consolidation into one BB before the weather turned bad so bee numbers and stores have been a difficult balancing act to get to where I am now having just put 12.5kg fondant on a light colony...
What I have learnt in addition to your excellent list is:

6. Read as much as you can by the apiarist, Dave Cushman, Haynes, These forums ( but not necessarily the first advice you get ;) ), etc.
7. Woodworking skills, weather reading, local flora, playing God, watching bees, teaching (as far as the little I know allows) interested local kids, macro photography, bio-medicines, etc, etc...

I'm sure there is a lot more...

It's been challenging but I have loved it.

My ambition is a bit more modest than yours, I.e. to get my colony through the winter then create a second colony and perhaps a third as my absolute maximum..... perhaps?

Thanks again to all who have helped me so far and thanks in advance for the advice I will undoubtedly need in the future.

The more I know, the more I know I need to know...

K ;)
 
reach 10 strong colonies by 2025, as that is likely the limit of what I can manage with the time I have available.
Managing 10 will accelerate and consolidate your experience and enable you (if you wish) to run more colonies in less time than you spent this year. However, the need to travel to an out-apiary, the logistics of kit-shifting, prep and storage will increase time spent.

stick to 10 strong colonies for a while, to try and claw back my expenditure
Yes, a good idea. It is said that you can make either bees or honey, but not both at the same time, so make honey next year and sell at a proper price at the right outlets.

Inspecting a strong colony can feel very intimidating; it takes time to build confidence. I'm still working on this
Manging strong colonies requires focus and good-tempered bees, so cull awkward queens before they produce drones.

6 month theory and practical course with my local BKA.
Your five points are excellent: were you taught them or did you work them out yourself?
 
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Your five points are excellent: were you taught them or did you work them out yourself?
Thank you.
I worked them out myself.
Over the past 10 months I've become obsessed with beekeeping. All my free time is taken up with reading and watching videos about beekeeping.
I've just applied for the BKA Basic assessment course through my local BKA - by May I'll have done 12 months.

Imminent new lessons
This winter is going to be a test. Losing some bees is something I'm likely going to have to experience, for the first time.

I need to improve my knowledge and experience of bee diseases. I've seen and dealt with CBPV in a teaching Apiary, and I'm oxalic acid vaporising this weekend. Beyond that I've a lot to learn.
 
worked them out myself
Good for you. :)

Imminent new lessons
Yes, winter losses may dampen your fever but the real test will be to avoid swarming during spring expansion. If they do, you won't make much honey. Trick is to give space - brood space, not just super space - as they expand, not when they've expanded.
 
Good for you. :)


Yes, winter losses may dampen your fever but the real test will be to avoid swarming during spring expansion. If they do, you won't make much honey. Trick is to give space - brood space, not just super space - as they expand, not when they've expanded.
I'm planning preemptive spring Demarees for the 11 framers and adding another brood box to the poly nucs.
Might need another 10 Abelo brood boxes, dependent upon who makes it that far. 💲💲💲💲
 
I think you have done well to get to where you are.
My first season started with a small swarm in early June. A long wait for a VQ to start laying before she was kicked out. A bought mated Q from BMH successfully introduced to a NUC which had to be moved due to wasp attack.
A successful newspaper unite and consolidation into one BB before the weather turned bad so bee numbers and stores have been a difficult balancing act to get to where I am now having just put 12.5kg fondant on a light colony...
What I have learnt in addition to your excellent list is:

6. Read as much as you can by the apiarist, Dave Cushman, Haynes, These forums ( but not necessarily the first advice you get ;) ), etc.
7. Woodworking skills, weather reading, local flora, playing God, watching bees, teaching (as far as the little I know allows) interested local kids, macro photography, bio-medicines, etc, etc...

I'm sure there is a lot more...

It's been challenging but I have loved it.

My ambition is a bit more modest than yours, I.e. to get my colony through the winter then create a second colony and perhaps a third as my absolute maximum..... perhaps?

Thanks again to all who have helped me so far and thanks in advance for the advice I will undoubtedly need in the future.

The more I know, the more I know I need to know...

K ;)
What happened in my first few years……?
Year 1 is easier than the 2nd! It went pretty well, my bees thrived, I got some honey, I did my treatments, they survived the winter.
Year two - swarming and more swarming, increases, losses, CBPV, wasps but still some honey.
Year 3 - lost my best colony over winter due to queen failure and it felt like such a massive jolt that I thought about giving up.
But I didn’t & increased my colonies but also spent a sh*t load of money. Each hive needs all the peripheral stuff - spare brood boxes, extra supers (& frames), treatment, feeding (& feeders). You lose your only hive tool, the summer was so hot you want a better ventilated bee suit, you need more clearer boards, a bigger extractor and so on.
It’s easy to get caught up in expanding your colonies!
But I’m now 5 years on and don’t regret it for one minute.
The main things I think I have learned is:
1. Where you have livestock, you’ll also have dead stock - it happens. All you can do is your best but sometimes colonies perish.
2. Bees can be tough but be calm & gentle when inspecting so you don’t squish bees and they’ll mostly behave nicely.
3. Get a mentor - invaluable help IMHO
4. If in doubt, ask your mentor or this lovely forum for some advice. I’ve opened a hive and thought ‘blinking heck, what’s going on’ - close up, walk away, have a cuppa and ask someone.
 
V interesting reading the journeys to date.

Year 1. Excited receiving my 2 Nucs. Both swarmed in the first 2 weeks. Went to an association nosema day in July, was told my colonies were riddled. Tried a Bailey comb change and bees wouldn’t build wax. Gave up and took it apart. Had a nice small heather crop a month later . Tried Maqs for varroa treatment, loads of dead bees and queen stopped laying. Lost a colony over winter and one had really bad dysentery in the spring.

Year 2. Bought another colony at an auction. Found an out-Apiary site.
Did a comb change. Bees seemed to be thriving. Did a split. Had no swarming that season. Really enjoyed it.

Year 3. Swarming frenzy. Bees were one step ahead of me. Felt always on the back foot. Bought more stuff. Bagged the new garden shed as a bee shed. Started to slowly take a bit of space in the garage. Read everything I could get my hands on. Volunteered to do loads of stuff, I found some interesting experienced beekeepers in my wider region. Found 2 really good mentors and they helped me a lot and gave me queen cells and virgin queens to get mated.

Another 5 years on, plenty of challenges along the way. Every year has its moments, its highs and lows

My advice
-Learn as much as possible about bee behaviour and biology. Once you start to understand that and your local environment it starts to make more sense
-Find yourself a couple of mentors ( good to have differences of opinion rather than follow one piece of advice) and make your own decisions
-Get stuck in. Try new approaches.
-Keep good records and use the winter to reflect, plan ahead and decide on a plan for the next year, even if you don’t keep to it.
 
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