Yeah, not a single post from last summer's bee raising experience. That could be that last year, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sucked ass. This post is about why that is and what we are going to do this year in an effort to do better.
We ordered six boxes of bees. I built two new langstroth hives and two new top bar hives. We had our original two hives at my mother's house. Our efforts to overwinter the bees there was a failure, despite doing our best to insulate the hives. One hive had apparently become a block of ice, and in the other, it looked as though the bees starved.
This time we had the two hives at my mother's, two hives at our place, and two hives at Sarah's mother's place. Each location started with one top bar and one langstroth. At our place we found a spot in a small clearing of trees up a small hill near where we planned to have a garden. At Sarah's mom's we placed the hives just inside the tree-line near the rear of her large property. She lives on the same main road outside of town that we do, but a few more miles down, towards Chena Hot Springs.
This year we decided to mark our queens. We didn't do that the previous year and we could never find the queen when we looked. I think this is where one of our problems came in. It's tough to get a bee to go where you want it to go, particularly if that place is a tiny queen marking tube. I wound up being rougher on the queens than I wanted, which I suspect led to issues later.
Bees installed, it was now time to let them do their things. Enter crappy weather, and lots of it, for most of the summer. Within the first few weeks it was obvious one of the hives wasn't going to make it. The queen was not laying, the population was dwindling and no stores were being kept. We eventually moved what bees were left to another hive. We had quickly gone from six hives to five.
Things didn't improve much from there. No hive was bringing in much in the way of stores. Another hive eventually collapsed, leaving us with four hives. I blame the combination of a summer of bad weather and my abuse of the queens when trying to mark them. Road construction near my mother's house continually disturbed the bees there, which kept them extremely agitated and on the verge of swarming several times.
Even with four working hives, at the end of the season, we got about as much honey as the previous year, when we only had two. We did get more wax, which was nice.
This year we chose to do only four hives. My mother is going all chemical warfare on some of her outside plants due to a mildew infestation, so we won't have the two hives there.
Sarah found a local supplier of bees here in Fairbanks in the form of Toklat Apiaries. They also have classes, which we are thinking about taking. A ton of good information can be found at their website. A bonus: Toklat marks their queens for you! No more roughed up queens because of my clumsiness!
Overall, we refuse to be discouraged. It's always sad to lose bees, but last year was only our second go at it, and we learn from each mistake.