Golden Rule

In mid-winter, the bees in my hive are hopefully buzzing away in a tight cluster, keeping each other warm.

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It’s best not to take the lid off when it’s cold out, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in that box. While I could get lost in a thought experiment of the Schrodinger’s cat variety, instead I don’t think too much about it and order bees to be delivered in April, just in case.

Last year’s winter was long and very cold. My bees did not make it through, so the colony that is currently in the hive is the one I installed this past summer. Their shipment was delayed due to weather issues down South and they didn’t arrive until June, giving the bees a late start in building up their stores.

When keeping bees, the single most humane thing we can do is to limit the amount of honey we steal. Bees work hard to make every drop, and they do so for reasons that have nothing to do with humans having a sweet tooth. They eat their supply of honey all winter long, using the energy to keep their bodies moving. With no central heating, movement is the only way to keep the temperature up.

Many people steal honey from bees in the fall, making their best guess as to how much the bees will need over the winter and how much it’s safe to take. I prefer to wait until early summer to see what’s left, and even then, I leave them a good supply. So I’ve not taken any honey from these bees, and won’t decide for a few months whether I should. The inner workings of a bee colony are incredibly complex and not completely understood. When striking a balance between our wants and the colony’s needs, I’d rather err in their favor, even if it means a little less gold in the pantry.

2 thoughts on “Golden Rule

  1. So your honey is always a year old when you take it? How much do you get? (Ish). I’m thinking of starting this spring, but I haven’t bought or built a hive yet… Is the one in the picture yours? I’ve never seen one like that – does it have a name?

  2. My honey is 8-12 months old when I take it, depending on how long the bees were able to collect the previous fall. Honey lasts indefinitely, so there’s no harm in letting it sit.

    How much I get depends very much on the weather, but I usually extract at least 10 frames, which is somewhere around 50 pounds of honey.

    The box full of bees in the photo is what you would get if you order bees. It has one queen in a small cage with a couple of worker bees and a plug of candy for them to feed her, 3 pounds of bees, and a can of sugar water for them to eat on the trip. In the photo I am opening up the box to transfer the bees into my hive, which is hidden behind me.

    My hive is a langstroth, which is what you probably picture when you think of a hive – boxes stacked on top of each other.

    If you want to get started this year you likely need to order bees soon. Do you have a local bee club? That’s a great place to get more info.

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