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  • Katerina Bailey

"My Time as a Backyard Beekeeper"

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved bees. I remember sitting outside for hours trying to lure them onto my hand by dipping my fingers in sugar. When I was fourteen, I was able to convince my father to buy a hive and begin a backyard beekeeping journey. Before we got our bees, we had visited a local beekeeper who gave us a tour of his twenty or so hives. He would soon become our only real contact with the beekeeping world. This man taught us everything we knew, which at the time wasn’t a lot.

We started with one hive which quickly took off. They were amazing and instantly started working with no problems. By year two we had harvested a great deal of

Me and my father getting ready to install our first hive - 2013

honey and were thinking in our minds “this beekeeping thing isn’t that hard after all”. Our hive swarmed twice late that summer, instead of the usual spring swarming, which yielded two new hives for us to care for. We had mastered the art of catching swarms, however only one of the new hives lasted through the winter.

We were still optimistic. We set out the next season with a determination to learn from the previous season and to keep our hives from unintentional swarming. But they still swarmed. We were so confused because we had done everything the books had told us to. The swarming wouldn't be as bad if we didn't know that our hive had a bad wax moth problem and needed all the strength they could get. We had been struggling with wax moths for a while. We set traps, we made the entrance smaller, we went in and killed any larva we could find but to no avail. At the end of year three, we had treated for everything we could, but the hives started to weaken. We fed them the best we could and miraculously one lasted through the winter. The next summer we were finally able to keep them from swarming and we thought we had mites under control. However, the wax moths never left us and our mite problem started to grow worse. By the end of year four, our hive was weaker than we wanted. This time they did not live through the winter.

In 2019 I became part of the apiary research program and was able to once again learn about bees. The more I learned the more I understood about bees and pitfalls that I myself had fallen into. I learned that my wax moth problem was probably a manifestation of underlying issues due to poor management. I also learned that the bee mentor that I thought knew everything about bees, turned out to not know that much. I do hope to get my own bees one day further down the road. I am confident with the information that I am learning now I will be able to better care for bees in the future. I now realize how dangerous a beekeeper without proper education can be. They don’t know how to properly care for them and keep them as disease-free as possible, which can end up spreading diseases to other beekeepers. I now understand the importance of proper education, from more than just another backyard beekeeper, in order to better care for bees and to protect surrounding hives.

If I were to do it again, I would go in more prepared. I would more diligently test for mites and check for pests. I would take more bee classes. Finally, I would listen to the mentor that I had but also reach out to other local beekeepers and help them with their hives for a while, so that I could better understand how to be a proper beekeeper.

Photos of my first hive - 2013

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