Springtime is is the moment of truth in beekeeping — did our bees survive the winter or did they freeze their little bee heads off? When you keep as many hives as we do at Beepods, there are almost always going to be some hives that don’t make it. But since it’s my first spring as a beekeeper, it was hard not to get emotional every time we opened up a deceased hive — their fuzzy bodies frozen in time, each lil gal having worked until her last breath.
But death is a major part of life, and a beekeeper must keep on keeping. Our survivor bees will go on to multiply and create stronger genetics for the future generations of midwestern bees, and that is exciting. At this early stage in my career, it is easy to see the great leaps I have made in skills, but everyone — even the most experienced keeper, I would imagine — can hone their techniques further each year.
And of course every cloud has a silver lining. The good thing about a bunch of dead hives? The massive amounts of honey we harvested from the now empty hives of the non-survivor colonies. Big thanks to the girls in black and yellow who gave their lives so that I could have this experience.
Last fall, we ended up with more colonies than we had full Beepods, so we had to over-winter several colonies in our Harvest Boxes. We were nervous about this, because they are not designed to protect from harsh weather, and it turns out we were right to be, because almost none of the colonies in nucs survived.
That meant a lot of cleaning, but also a lot of leftover honey. This was a point of interest, because it meant they did not starve, but that something else killed them. One thought we discussed was the strange winter temperatures we had this year. Since we had such drastic fluctuations, it was possible that the bees had left the hive on a warm day and did not have time to get back in their cluster, where they keep each other warm, by the time the temp dropped to bee-freezing.
Once I got over the sadness of it all, it was actually a pretty fun day, although that may have had to do with the awesome people I work with. We had to remove the bars of from each hive, and sort them into empty comb and honey-filled comb. Some we kept for ourselves, but we saved the straightest comb for the bees we would be receiving this spring, to give them a jump start on the work it takes to start their new homes.
We dumped out each of the boxes and checked them for signs of mold, moisture, and mice. These are messes that take extra action before they can be re-used. All of the bars being saved for the new bees fit very nicely in the clean boxes, where we will store them until they are needed.
Next on the list: scraping the rest of the used bars clean of wax and the most magical medicinal propolis. The wax and propolis (after I sneak a little bit into my pocket) will be rendered so we can use it for our Bee Better Butter products. And finally, we will crush the giant bag of honey-filled comb and strain it into big beautiful jars, which I may or may not proceed to dump all over my face while singing and dancing.