Well, both hives made it through the summer, despite our severe drought, which had established bushes and trees dying, and me showering with a bucket, which I then trotted out to try to keep the tomatoes alive (we are on a well and didn't dare to water, fill the pool, etc).Queen Priscilla's hive went gangbusters, and filled up 2 deep hive bodies and one honey super, but either Queen Venus is a bit of a lemon (or perhaps Priscilla is an amazon) and her troup has only partially filled the 2nd deep body. The frames (the vertical, lift-out sections upon which the bees build their comb, sort of like hanging file folders) weigh 3 or 4 pounds apiece, depending on whether they contain babies and pollen or just pure honey (there are 10 to a super or body).I decided that given the drought and the first-year status of the hives, I would not try to take any honey this fall; I want to be sure that they make it through the winter. We have gotten tiny sections of honeycombs with the hive inspections now and then, and it is fascinating to see the the honey looks and tastes different as the lilacs, mint, Kalopanax tree, etc. come into bloom. I can see why there is a market for artisinal honey. I have really high hopes/expectations for next year.Sting count = 0, hooray!!! I was relieved, as I worried that I was too much of a baby for this; these bees are mellow and my teenagers both helped me. The chickens did not try to eat the bees, nor were my inquisitive dogs stung. No neighbors were annoyed or bothered.Having bees has changed my gardening somewhat. I now notice which plants are humming with bees, and seek out those that are bee-friendly more than before, and I'm trying to make sure I always have something blooming sequentially. I notice flowers more; bigger and more colorful do not necessarily correlate with bee favoritism. My tomatoes and apple trees have never borne better, and I think it was all those workers. I like to hang out near the beehives now; it is very relaxing to watch them zoom back and forth. I find I am also letting some weeds grow, if they are in-out-of-the-way locations, until they have flowered for the bees, and then I rip them out before they can go to seed; a bit obsessive, perhaps. I have sprinkled clover seeds in the back and side yards. All in all, I am really happy I tried it, and as an added bonus, it has given my teenagers another cool thing they can do; it is always good for kids to have a reason to feel competent and brave.Here are some things I would recommend for another novice beekeeper:1. Get a full, real suit! It subsitutes for courage at first, and is a protection just in case.2. Learn about them well ahead of time. Some locations have bee clubs but you can also learn a lot online. The place I bought my bees, Long Lane Honey Farms, has 88 online lessons which are free and terrific, but there are many other sources of info.3. Get a helper. It helps get through the inspection/manipulation faster, and the supers get heavy when they are full of honey. If you can partner with someone else who wants bees, you could save some $$ also.4. Get a hive tool and smoker, but also get a thin spatula or restorer's catspaw. The bees try to glue the supers together with propolis (yellow waxy stuff) and sometimes the hive tool is too thick to pry them apart.5. Ditch the thick stingproof leather gloves with the stiff clumsy fingers---these make you prone to dropping frames, smashing bees by mistake, etc. This is why you see those photos of bare-handed people working their bees. Instead use those yellow dishwashing gloves. They give significant protection but they are very flexible and also nonslip.6. If you are blessed with a decent woodworker in the family, you can make your whole hive, or at least the supers, for significant savings. I bought one hive and my darling husband made me a duplicate and extra supers. Buying the frames is worth it, though, and the foundation; they are cheaper if unassembled. You can make a hive stand with scraps of lumber or just use a couple of concrete blocks. My hive area is beautiful, with a little deck with plants around, a birdbath, and blue hive stands, but the truth is that bees aren't picky at all on this.I will give a spring and fall update, if people are interested.
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