May 20 is World Bee Day. I don’t know the proper custom for celebrating this holiday. A magical bee fairy doesn’t come and visit children at night and leave presents. Although, you may want to stand by your kids beds while they sleep and make a buzzing sound. When they wake up you can yell “Surprise! It’s World Bee Day.” The purpose of World Bee Day is to draw attention to the plight of all bees not just the honey bees, who I believe have much better publicists than the other bees. World bee day seemed like a good day to write a post about the status of our honey bees.
This hobby we started last year is growing at an exponential rate. You may recall that I wrote previously about how beekeepers worry about swarms in spring. To prevent swarms, you can split a strong colony into two colonies. The bees have more space so they don’t feel compelled to swarm and the beekeeper doesn’t lose the bees. Doug made one split late last year. This year he made two splits and also moved some bees into a queen castle in an attempt to make an excess of mated queens that could potentially be sold. Amazingly, all the new colonies from the splits were successful. Just like that we jumped from having 2 small starter colonies in April 2018 to having 5 colonies in 2019.
Tonight Doug and I did some math while sitting around the fire pit. He is a pharmacist who majored in math, and I am an analytical chemist. We do nerdy things like bee math in our leisure time. We used the assumption that a 10 frame hive box filled with bees is about 30,000 bees. We purchased two five frame nucs in April 2018, so we are assuming that the two nucs together contained a combined 30,000 bees. Here is what our apiary looked like then.
Counting up the number of hive boxes and frames of bees we have now, we estimate that we have around 210,000 bees. That is a 7x increase in just 13 months! That is something to celebrate on World Bee Day. Here is how our apiary looks now.
Recently I have begun asking questions such as, “Exactly how many hives do we want to have?” “Why do you need to go to the bee store again?” “Couldn’t we sell the next nuc you make?” We agreed to maintain six colonies just because we really liked having three colonies, and you have to always be prepared to lose 50% of your bees. Here is the truth I have come to learn about beekeeping: Bees are either growing exponentially or dying in mass. Doug and I are so happy that our bees are doing so well. Yet we know that if we are not vigilant, the varroa mite complex can wipe out our bees almost overnight. Worse, if we were to get American Foulbrood in the hives, we would lose our bees and have to burn our equipment because the spores from the disease can last for decades. Beekeeping is not for those of weak will. You can do everything right, treat for pests, feed at the appropriate times, and the bees may still die.
You don’t need to be a beekeeper to celebrate World Bee Day. The best way to help the bees is to plant flowers in mass. If you are a landowner, consider not mowing 100% of your yard. Let some of the perimeter edges grow to provide more habitat. You could wear a cute bee T-shirt and bake a cake, but the bees would appreciate the flowers more. Happy World Bee Day!