Our Beekeeping Experience

In 2015 Kevin became a beekeeper. He took five weeks of classes, built the foundation for his hives, and when the big day came he went to Beekind to pick up the 10,000 bees he had ordered.  Our boys observed the bees sitting on our kitchen table buzzing intensely for the day while Kevin made the final preparations. With a sense of courage and wonder I so admire in him, Kevin transitioned them to their new hives with humor and caution. Then we began to wait for the magic to happen…

Our family often talks about how important bees are to our world and the boys have helped plant California natives in our garden to welcome bees, so they truly have a fondness for the creatures. When our younger son was four years old he heroically saved a drowning bee from his outdoor sand and water table only to be stung. He cried out, “I was just trying to rescue my friend!” He was very upset that his ‘friend’ betrayed him and we had to explain that the bee was in protection mode. He learned a valuable, although unwanted, lesson.

prepping honey
Inspecting the honey comb

One day in September we opened the hive and took out our first honeycomb covered frame. As we crushed the honeycomb and put it through the cheesecloth the kitchen counters, table and floor became sticky with honey drippings, and so were the kids. They were in heaven! Our four year old forgave the bee that stung him the moment he licked the dripping honey off his fingers and wrist. This whole bee keeping gig was a hit! Everyone who received a jar of the honey was so grateful and we felt pretty proud giving it away. That year for Christmas I gifted Kevin with a bunch of beekeeping gear and he bought our sons their own beekeeping suits. We couldn’t wait to check our hive in the spring, but one day we noticed a problem. All the bees had left or died. We were doing so well. What happened to the bees?

tasting honey
Enjoying the Honey

Why do bee colonies collapse? There are a number of reasons. Pesticides and insecticides are well known causes of colony collapse. Neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide, is one of the many factors responsible for the massive honey bee population decline. New evidence, however, shows that honeybees are not the only important pollinators this class of insecticide harms. Researchers believe that they are also harming butterflies and wild bees. To learn more about this cause, check out this post from the B.U.G. blog.

Another cause is invasive varroa mite, the nemesis of honey bees. These mites attach to the honey bee and brood and sucks their blood, leaving the bees weak with a shorter life span and the brood to be deformed, sometimes missing wings or legs. We thought this was why our bees died, but Kevin had been inspecting the hive for mites and had never seen them.  

varroa mite
varroa mite on bee

Poor bee nutrition is another possibility. When there are less natural resources, the bees suffer. More and more land is being developed and many areas that were once wild meadows are now used for chemically covered farm lands. Our area has an abundance of nutrition, so that was probably not the cause.

2016 turned out to be an El Nino year after a long drought and our bees most likely couldn’t survive the harsh winter. Winter mortality was the likely cause of our bee loss, but we worry about the bees all year. We regrouped the following summer and introduced a new set of bees and to our delight, we filled 20 pounds of honey into mason jars this May. But in order to keep the honey flowing, we know that we need to educate everyone about the bees. When we see someone in our neighborhood spraying their weeds, we speak up. When a neighbor comes over for advice on what to use to stop rust fungus on her roses, we help her research natural ways. Even just sharing our honey with friends and neighbors opens the door to bee discussions. If your children feel like bees are their friends, check out our kids’ favorite podcast Wow in the World. This episode is all about bees!!   

Written by: Jen Clarke