My beekeeping journey officially started on February 14, 2015 – yes, Valentine’s Day. This is the day I completed my first beekeeping course via the Loudoun Beekeepers Association. I highly recommend anyone considering or simply interested in beekeeping take an introductory beekeeping course. These courses typically provide critical insights for topics such as: honey bee biology and lifecycle; beekeeping equipment; bee health challenges; bee products; installing bee packages and nucleus colonies; and much more. A field session or day, including installing packages and nucleus colonies of honey bees, is typically included. At the conclusion of my course, I was given a mentor to guide me though my first year. He was and still is a valuable asset.
I struggled in my efforts to find the perfect sunny spot for my hives. The area selected was neither sheltered from the strong winds nor inside a fenced area. Nevertheless, on April 23, 2015, I installed three packages of bees. Two of the packages subsequently merged (not sure how or why). But with the assistance of my mentor, I successfully split the combined hives and purchased my first replacement queen.
All three hives made it through their first winter due in great part to adequate food supplies; wind breaks; and moisture abatement. I added three additional packages on April 11, 2016. This is also the day at least two of my first-year hives swarmed. Sadly, I failed to catch either of these swarms. On April 23, 2016, I caught my first swarm – a grapefruit size collection of bees that I thought wouldn’t make it. However, they are now one of my most productive hives. On May 11, 2016, I installed my first “nuc”. I lost one of my original hives due to a “laying worker” issue a few weeks later.
I carried seven hives into the 2016 winter, and each made it through winter. To keep the hives from swarming, I eventually made five splits, resulting in 12 hives in the late spring of 2017. Despite these challenges, we produced a significant quantity of honey.
Year 4 (2018) was a challenge to say the least. I carried nine hives into the 2017 winter, and six hives made it through winter. This was the first winter I suffered losses. However, I was fortune as average losses were nearly 60% for the State of Virginia. I made four splits and added four packages (new hives), resulting in 14 hives in spring. We experienced a wetter than normal spring, summer and fall, resulting in a reduction (30%) of my projected honey yield. We commenced sale of our honey in 2018 at the Community Foodworks’ (CF), Oakton Farmers Market. We thoroughly enjoyed this experience and thank all of our customers for their support and feedback on our honey. My hives swarmed later than normal (August and September), weakening the mother hives at a critical time. I suffered a subsequent round of hive losses, and carried only 10 hives and 2 nucs into winter. It will truly be a miracle if the 2 nucs make it, given the size of their bee populations. And one of my hives is queenless. It too will require a miracle. I’m hopefully for a better 2019 and planning an expansion of my beekeeping activities. Lastly, we plan to participate in the CF market in the spring of 2019. See you there!