Beekeeping Through a Pandemic Wasn’t Always Sweet as Honey
Photo Credit: Mark Stebnicki/Pexels
2020 was a challenging year for everyone, including beekeepers. Beekeeping wasn’t a new pandemic hobby for me, I actually started beekeeping back in 2017 when my husband and I moved into our homestead. And since then, my 250,000+ bees and I have weathered ups and downs, especially over the past year. 2020 threw so many new challenges at me: being isolated from my beekeeping community, weakening hives, not being able to get equipment I needed, and new pests moving into our colonies. Beekeeping has been such a grounding hobby for me; it’s a part of my identity, and I’ve been spending 2021 rebuilding healthy colonies and getting us back to a better space.
Let’s start with the good of 2020. In March of last year, my corporate 9-to-5 day job allowed me to start working from home. This was a huge win for me as a beekeeper. Now that I was home, I could spend more daylight hours observing and monitoring my bees’ activities. Before then, I only had a few hours on the weekends to see what my bees were up to in the afternoon, but working from home allowed me to do quick hive checks during my lunch breaks. It felt so nice to be able to shut my laptop at lunch, walk down to my beehives, and watch the bees calmly going about their days, totally unaware that a pandemic was going on. Spending more time with my bees kept me calm, grounded, and focused on the small, sweet things that matter in life.
Then my colonies started getting weaker. Two of my hives were actually so weak, I ended up combining them to form one stronger colony. Combining hives was something I had never done, and under normal circumstances, would run over to my local beekeeping store to talk through the process with them and stock up on any equipment I needed. Instead, I called my local store and had them talk me through it step by step. After that conversation, plus a few YouTube videos later, I was ready to combine my hives. It ended up being a success, but it was stressful just knowing that I couldn’t work through it face-to-face with my fellow beekeepers. I missed the reassurance, the community, and the camaraderie I’d normally get after talking bees with my fellow hobbyists.
All summer my colonies continued to struggle, and I tried everything to get them back on track. I bought and swapped out new bee feeders every few weeks, with no luck. I’d try to order equipment online, but the parts I needed were either out of stock or would take weeks to ship. Our bees stored enough honey to get them through winter but nowhere near enough for us to feel comfortable taking any extra. They were surviving, but certainly not thriving.
In late August, we received some good news. A local car dealership found a wild honey bee colony in one of their trees after a storm — the same dealership I brought my car to for service. They remembered I was a beekeeper, and after calling a company to remove the hive, the dealership actually ended up “donating” the bees to us. They drove a cardboard box over with 25,000 new bees, and I installed the hive on a hot summer day with my beekeeping suit (and mask) on. That was a highlight of my summer in 2020, and an experience I will remember the rest of my life.
In the fall, we wrapped up our hives for the winter (we use insulation to keep the hives warm in the New England winters), shut the lids on tight, and hoped for an easy winter for the bees. Throughout the winters, beekeepers aren’t supposed to disturb or open the hives, in order to allow the bees to keep their warmth inside. So many things can go wrong during the winters, and unfortunately, we had a pest get into one of our hives. We put a shim with a small ventilation hole on the top of our hives, and a mouse family got in. The mice chewed through the wax hive frames, built a gigantic wiry nest, and caused so much damage that they ended up killing our hive during the winter. It was absolutely devastating to open my hive this spring and see a giant nest (complete with two mice staring up at me) — and no living bees.
After such a hard year of beekeeping, I vowed to make 2021 better for us, for our bees, and to get things back on track. I made a list of everything that went wrong, and what actions I could possibly take to fix the problems. Mice in the hives? Put mouse guards on all summer. No fall equipment available? Order it first thing in the spring so I’d have it when I need it. Weak hives? Try different feeders and make better feed.
Luckily, I am still working from home, which has been helpful in allowing me to observe and adapt to small changes in my hives. I’ve made quite a few improvements in our hives this year, and so far, I haven’t experienced the problems I faced last year. Our hives are strong, healthy, and absolutely flourishing. They have taken to the new feed and feeders I put on this year, and there are no signs of pest activity. After so many crushing blows last year, I finally found my beekeeper’s footing again. I am so grateful to have this fulfilling hobby in my life, and to not give up when the going gets tough. Here’s to a happy and successful fall season. I certainly have a lot to buzz about.