Last year my husband Doug and I were ready to quit beekeeping. The hobby we started just three years earlier felt more like a job than a recreational activity. The bees didn’t feel like our pets. They felt like our bosses. Imagine having 250,000 different bosses at work, and all of them have the capability to sting you when they are unhappy with your performance. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” Doug said late last summer. The story of how we went from wanting to quit beekeeping to getting back our beekeeping mojo is not just a story about bees. It’s a story about life. Maybe reading our story can help you if you feel like you have lost your mojo too.
We started beekeeping with the enthusiasm of a Labrador Retriever in a tennis ball factory. We read books. We watched videos. We talked to other beekeepers. We talked to friends and families until their ears bled. (That’s a slight exaggeration. The one person whose ear bled had an ear infection.) Our bees were multiplying. We harvested honey. We placed hives in new locations. I started a blog. We felt like we were official beekeepers. Everything changed in the pandemic. I’m guessing everything changed for you too in the pandemic. The pandemic turned everyone’s life inside out.
I began beekeeping because I am a gardener, and I knew bees would help the garden. When the pandemic hit, like everyone else, I felt a desperate need to regain some aspect of control in my life. The way I sought to regain that control was through expanding my vegetable garden. The garden at least gave me some control over the food we ate. (If you want to read my post about pandemic gardening you can click here. I don’t like to read the posts I wrote during the pandemic. If you read them carefully, you will find the hints of sadness and anxiety buried in them.) I began canning and preserving the vegetables from the garden, and suddenly gardening took up all my free time. Doug and I no longer looked after the bees together. Instead, we agreed that I would take the lead caring for the garden, and Doug would take the lead caring for the bees. It was a very practical and efficient decision. It was the kind of decision that two people who spent their careers in operations management would make. Yet, it was the decision that would start to take some of the joy out of beekeeping for us.
The pandemic drug on. We began to wonder if life would ever get back to the way it was prior to covid-19. We decided to see if we could turn the beekeeping hobby into a business because everything else in the world was falling apart. Maybe we could form a business and generate a new revenue stream. Doug began expanding the number of hives. He continued to do the majority of the beekeeping alone because I was in the garden growing a year’s worth of produce for our family. He would check 10 hives in a full bee suit, in the 90+ °F heat. Bees get very grumpy when it is hot. So does Doug. As Doug worked faster to get his work done, the bees stung him more. They stung him through his bee suit. They chased him to the truck. They tormented him.
“Should we quit beekeeping?” we asked ourselves. I even wrote a blog post about this which you can read here. We decided we would make a final decision in spring after we saw how many of the hives had made it through the winter. If all the bees died in the winter, then that would make the decision for us. All the bees didn’t die. Two hives survived. We made the decision that we would continue with beekeeping, but this year we did things differently. Here is what changed, and it has made all the difference.
- We stopped trying to expand the number of hives. – In previous years, we kept trying to expand the number of hives by making splits. This year, we weren’t so aggressive. Last year we had 10 hives spread across three locations. This year we have 3 hives in one location. Life lesson: Having more does not always bring more fulfillment and happiness.
- We only check the hives when we can do it together. – “I like it better when you are with me,” Doug said. After 27 years of marriage, that’s a really nice thing to hear your husband say. Doug does all of the heavy lifting. (A hive box can weigh up to 100 pounds.) I do the hive inspections, which allows him to rest in between lifts. We strategize together about what the bees need. If our schedules don’t allow us to check the bees together, we don’t check the bees. When Doug and I were dividing responsibilities between gardens and bees, we were efficient, but efficient is now always best. Life lesson: The most efficient path in life is not always the most fulfilling or rewarding.
- I stopped comparing us to other beekeepers. – I would leave meetings of our local beekeepers’ association wondering what we were doing wrong. I wondered why we weren’t getting as much honey as other beekeepers. Why were some of our hives dying in winter? Should we have treated our bees for mites sooner? The other beekeepers have already treated. Life lesson: Comparing yourself to others will always steal your joy. It is fine to learn from others, but then go chart your own course and be happy with your own progress.
- We don’t check the hives very often. – When it is really hot, we don’t check the bees anymore. If we look in a hive and see eggs or larva, we don’t spend anymore time looking in the hive. We used to tear the entire hive apart to find the queen. Inspecting hives that way is more time consuming and makes the bees mad, which means they will sting you more. When we are performing hive inspections and we start to feel overheated, we stop and don’t check the rest of the hives. We used to force ourselves to complete hive inspections even as we neared heat exhaustion. The bees are doing better this year with less intervention from us. We will collect more honey this year than last year. Humans by nature think that they can improve everything they touch. Our honeybees make a strong argument that sometimes the best thing you can do is just to step back and let nature run its course. Life lesson: Sometimes things do better without our intervention.
We checked all our hives today for the first time in over a month. It was a lovely sunny day with cool temperatures for mid-August. The bees were in a good mood. They have been busy producing a bumper crop of honey. After we checked their progress, we thanked them and left them to carry on. None of the bees chased after us. We weren’t exhausted or overheated when we were finished. Instead, we felt something we hadn’t felt in a very long time after a hive check. We felt like we had fun. Our beekeeping mojo was back!
How are things going for you right now? Maybe things aren’t working out the way you planned or the way they once did. You don’t have to quit. Maybe all you need to do is to take a step back and make a few changes. The mojo hasn’t left you forever. You just need to invite it back.
What a great story, and like you said, not just for beekeeping, but for life in general. I have zero knowledge on this topic, so it was a refreshing read, especially here on WordPress. Glad to hear that things are looking up once more!
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I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Loved your story. I had bees for five years in our backyard with multiple splits. Then I got bladder cancer. I didn’t have the strength to continues caring for the bees after surgery and they eventually absconded. Four years have passed. Now we are in a severe drought in California. The bees still come to the garden but their hive is elsewhere. I realize we all have challenges, especially bees. I plan to try beekeeping again this coming Spring.
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I’m glad you are feeling well enough to try beekeeping again. Thank you for reading my post and commenting.
I hit the like button but I can’t go from there, so here it is: “LIKED” Love your writings and outlook on your life that you share. Always look forward to reading a new one. Pat Russ
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Your methods sounds similar to how ours have developed. My husband and I work together on our hives, and we’ve gotten to the point where we try to follow the lead of our bees, along with regularly treating for varroa. It took a while to realize how impossible it is to both leave the bees alone when they seem to need it (when accepting a new queen, during a dearth, when treating with Formic pro) and still inspect them top to bottom every 7-10 days. I am so grateful we are able to share this work. I think it would be exponentially harder on one’s own.
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