Have you ever been surprised into a new hobby?

When we built our house my favorite part was the huge window area in our bump out dining room. Our contractor built our house up high enough that from that window we could see the huge pond down below our house. The kids love watching all of the wildlife during meal times–sparking excellent homeschool conversations.  

Last March they were eating lunch in the dining room and aimlessly staring out the window as they do most days, when they noticed a large clump of something in our pear tree. From the house it looked like a large brown blob, but you could see things flying around it. Curious myself as to what it was, I went out to investigate. I discovered a large swarm of honeybees. 

7 ways a backyard gardening benefits kids, mom, and the whole family

a beekeeper is born

 We knew that we had a hive living inside one of the walnut trees in our field but we had never seen them swarm before. I called my husband, Brett, who was on his way home, and he called a friend of ours that has several hives of his own. He told Brett what we would need to catch them and agreed to come down to help. He gave Brett and 6 kids a crash course in beekeeping while I was off picking up more supplies. When I returned, they had successfully gotten that swarm into the box.

Within the next two weeks we caught three more swarms in the same pear tree. The kids and I started a mass research project, reading beekeeping books and scouring online resources to figure out everything we needed to do to keep them alive.

beekeeping info

One thing quickly learned is that beekeeping is a trial and error activity. It seemed that no two beekeepers agreed on how to do things. One book told us to do one thing and another said the exact opposite. The more we read, the more confused we were. (We have a handy checklist for you.)

Periodically throughout the summer, we would suit up and check to see how the hives were doing. We would pull frames to check to see that the queen was still laying eggs and make sure the bees had plenty of room. Each of our brood boxes has ten frames. Once the frames are eighty percent drawn out with comb, we add another box and frames to the top.  

All four hives made it through the summer, had produced honey, and had filled up most of the boxes that we had given them. Being the first year that we had them, we weren’t going to try to pull any honey from the frames. Everything they made the first year was needed to get them through the winter. 

As the seasons changed it was time to do more research on what we needed to do throughout the winter. Being first year bees we weren’t sure if they would have enough honey stores to last the winter so we needed to add a supplement. We chose to make sugar cakes and put them into the top box just below the lid. The sugar cakes would provide them with extra food for the winter and were also said to help reduce the humidity in the hive. We wanted to make sure to have this in the hives before cold weather hit. Bees regulate the temperature inside their hive and opening the lid during cold weather can disrupt their temperatures.

observation is key

As it began warming up we noticed that one of the hives didn’t seem as active as the other three. When it warmed up enough to inspect them we found that one of our hives froze during one of the cold snaps. The only bees going in and out were bees from other hives that were robbing sugar from the leftover sugar cake. 

The other three hives were thriving and FULL. We quickly added an additional box and frames to the top of each of them.

A few weeks later sitting at that same dining room table my son saw our first swarm of the year. Our hives had started swarming. The swarm was clustered on a cedar fence post between the house and our hives.

Knowing that I needed to act quickly before they decided to move to a new location, I suited up, gathered up a spare box with frames, and went to try to catch the swarm. At the time we didn’t have a bee suit small enough for any of the kids so they watched from the porch while I carefully moved the bees from the post to the box on the ground. Throughout the spring we caught two more swarms in the same location bringing our hive count to six. 

With all of the swarming combined with the crazy spring weather, our hives seem to be a little slow to make honey this year. We are hopeful that we will be able to pull a few frames by the end of the summer while also leaving them enough to survive the winter.

I’ll update you on the honey soon. 

Would you like solid recommendations on the materials needed to get started with beekeeping?

Download your Beekeeping 101 Checklist.

Amanda Kaye

Catch more of our adventures on my author page. 

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