What’s Your Plan? (You need one)

I am back from my Californian adventure, which involved spending time with Ray Olivarez of Olivarez Honey Bees and Randy Oliver who runs the popular scientific beekeeping website and writes in the American Bee Journal. I learned a lot and added to the great material that I want to pass on in my forthcoming book.

Now that it is November the bees have begun to cluster inside their hives in the evenings, and they are not flying so much in the daytime. They seem to be bringing in some pollen and nectar from the ivy, but soon it will get cold, and they will hunker down for the Winter. There is nothing to be gained from opening up bee hives now. It is a time for cleaning and tidying up; a lot of equipment needs to be cleaned and stored so that it is ready for when it is needed next year. The feeding should be done or very nearly so. The only thing I have left to do is perform a mite treatment when the bees are broodless using oxalic acid vapour, which will be in December (see Richard Noel’s video).

One of the common denominators of the successful beekeepers I have interviewed across the world is that they are organised; they have a system which works for them, and they follow it. The actual timings of the various beekeeping tasks throughout the year can change according to the conditions, but very often when something needs doing it needs doing quickly and thoroughly, no matter how many hours it takes. If you have a lot of hives that can amount to long days of tough work, but nature won’t wait around until you are ready; she has ideas of her own, and she isn’t going to change them for anyone.

Cleaning up mating nucs at Olivarez Honey Bees
Cleaning up mating nucs at Olivarez Honey Bees

The following statement is one that has been confirmed to be true, over and over, at every meeting that I have had with successful beekeepers:

Look after the bees, and they will look after you.”

You’ve got to have a plan. If you don’t have a plan how can you possibly be ready in time for all of the tasks that need to be done? How can you properly look after your bees if you don’t know what you are doing, or why you are doing it, or when is the right time? When you become a beekeeper, even if you only have one colony of bees, you have a responsibility to look after them. Honey bees are your livestock; your role is to ensure that they prosper, and your rewards, both psychologically and materially, will be great if you know that you have done your best for them.

I like to use the Winter months to review the season gone by and consider my options for the one to come. I believe that this is an essential exercise for all beekeepers, not just the sizeable commercial bee farmers. I will share my plans sometime soon, for anyone interested, but for now here are some questions which you should be able to answer:

– why am I a beekeeper; what do I want to achieve?
– do I want to make some money from my bees?
– is honey my primary goal, or something else?
– what do I love about beekeeping and what am I best at?
– when and what are the nectar flows in my area?
– do I want to increase my number of hives or apiaries?
– how will I monitor varroa mites in my colonies, and when?
– am I delighted with my bees or could they be better (more gentle or productive or disease resistant)?
– what went well last year, and what went wrong?

campanula lactiflora
campanula lactiflora is great for bees in the garden

I hope I haven’t come over all “preachy” about this, and if I have, apologies dear friends. I’m just passing on what I have learned. Somebody said to me once, “If you want to be good to the bees then plant lots of pollinator-friendly flowers in your garden; keeping bees is something else entirely.” Keeping bees is not easy; it takes time and effort to learn the craft – we never stop learning – but for those prepared to travel the path is a worthwhile and fulfilling pursuit…mostly!

What do you think?

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